Caps and gowns are optional at Oberlin's graduation. It's hard to say exactly what percentage typically dons them, but for all the alternative costumes and cap/gown hybrid outfits Obies come up with, the commencement ceremony is always a great exercise in people-watching. Last year's highlight, as I remember best: a full-body hot dog costume. This year's: a guy in a white ballerina tutu wearing bunny ears.
What can I say? We like to have fun here. For commencement weekend, my dad and grandmother drove up from Kansas, and my mother flew in from the Netherlands, where she's lived for the past two years. I had asked my dad to dig around in my closet at home and bring my cap and gown from high school graduation, in case I decided last minute to wear them. (Which I did; Grandma's crestfallen, deploring face when I said I'd probably just wear a dress when I crossed the stage was what did me in.)
But first - my dad told me over the phone, "Yeah, I managed to find the cap and gown. But you should probably know, you painted all over your cap."
"Damn," I said. "Probably can't wear it for this graduation then."
"Well...actually...it's quite timely."
Turns out, in my post-high school fever of excitement about going to college, I had painted "Oberlin Class of '09" on my cap. A little presumptuous, I suppose - but holding that cap in my hands again this weekend and reading that message made me feel like I was getting hugged by my 17-year-old self. Yay, we did it! (If the idea of celebrating with my imaginary past self seems ridiculous, forgive me; I am an only child.)
Around the same time that I painted that cap, I also handmade my high school graduation announcements. They looked like this:
So, I had some expectations for college. Not all, or even many, of them came true exactly as I envisioned them - but on the other hand, plenty of amazing, life-altering things happened that I couldn't have imagined even in my wildest dreams. And so, on Monday, I crossed the stage, got my diploma, shook the proper hands and gave hugs where due, and returned to the sea of graduating, cheering peers with a big grin on my face.
The day before commencement, I took the fam to Agave, the lovely burrito place and tequileria in town that pledges to use local, sustainable ingredients in their huge, delectable, affordable portions (this place blows Chipotle out of the water, no kidding). We sat in the sunshine outside on the so-called main drag of downtown Oberlin, enjoying our food, saying hello to friends as they came by, reflecting on the years I've spent here, and of course, as usual, people-watching. My grandma said something to the effect of, "Well, I hope you got something out of this funky little place!"
Indeed. There's been a lot of trying to put into words just what "this funky little place" had given me over the last four years. I'm still processing and working on the articulation of it all. An oft-quoted convocation speaker once likened an Oberlin education to a grenade that goes off (in a good way!) ten years later - and I have a sneaking suspicion I'm still going to be figuring out all the ways this place has shaped me for decades to come.
Other highlights of commencement weekend: 11 p.m. organ pump concert at Finney Chapel, checking out Saturn through a telescope during open observatory hours with the astronomy department (follow the "Free Stars!" signs), the feel-good Steel Drum concert on the steps of Finney, and of course, the annual tradition of Illumination in Tappan Square - hundreds of candlelit paper lanterns strung up and the square filled with students, families, professors, alums, and townspeople all milling around.
And as for my own personal commencement celebration...I ran the Cleveland Half-Marathon two weekends ago! (And Aseem, being the awesome friend he is, woke up at 5 a.m. to drive me downtown and cheer me on.)