Woohoo, I’m a senior! And so is a bunch of you! You know what that means…pointless ceremony! Yes, nothing says senior year quite like a plethora of processions and convocations. I’m not even sure exactly what a convocation is, but the administration seems to like it, so I usually play along. “Um…yeah, I just can’t wait to convoke! And what a fine day for convoking it is! Oh, what’s that behind you?” Then when they turn to look, I run away. After all, sooner or later they’d catch on that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Still, my time at Williams has afforded me insight into some of the sacred rites of passage, and it is with great honor and hubris that I pass this information on to you.
“Baccalaureate” has always been a term that confused me, but we can learn a lot by looking at the Latin cognate. Breaking the word into two parts, we get “laureate” (from the Latin aurum) which means “thing that one listens to,” and “Baccal” (from the Latin Lauren Bacall) which means “annoyance that continues for hours.” Thus, it becomes clear that a Baccalaureate is an occasion for various people to drone on endlessly, in the Latin tradition. I have suggested modernizing it by carrying on the proceedings in Pig Latin, but was told to “isspay offyay” in the ancient tongue.
All Trout’s Day is a tradition that has fallen out of favor at Williams, but which was once as much a part of senior year as getting rip-roaring drunk. On the last day of classes, each senior would purchase a small trout and leave it on the president’s doorstep. The resulting pile of fish would form a small “school,” a sign of respect and thanks for the schooling one has received. President Schapiro may be just the man to revive this tradition. (Note to president: please don’t expel me, I have a family…)
And, of course, the graduation ceremonies themselves are the pinnacle of our time here at Williams. This crucial ceremony has many trial runs during the year, because, although Williams students are the best and brightest of their generation, capable of scientific breakthroughs and profound thesis-writing, we really can’t walk in a line and arrange ourselves alphabetically without lots of practice. “Of course Lockean idealism is utopian optimistic foolishness in a Hobbesian capitalistic hegemonic society…does ‘L’ come before ‘K’?”
The traditional graduation costume consists of a cap and a gown. The cap derives from ancient times, when a hard head-covering signified that the student was now free from the rod of the master. Oops, that was a true fact! I’m so sorry, let me try again…the mortarboard was originally used to carry lots of spackle, in order to repair all the structural damage that occurred during the previous night’s festivities. Ah, spackle: we know thee well.
As for the gowns, graduation ceremonies were once held in suits, but someone always spoiled the effect with a white or blue suede suit. Even when black suits became standard, some wiseacre would wear a pornographic tie. So gowns it was, and individuality was defeated.
If you’re like me, you wonder what Pomp and Circumstance has to do with graduation. (Also, if you’re like me, you are suspicious of health food desserts. I mean, low-fat Twinkies… What’s the point?) Pomp makes some degree of sense, since we’re pompous about graduating, but why Circumstance? I asked a friend of mine, who replied that circumstance is what lets you graduate.
I considered this. I’ve had an interesting time here at Williams. I’ve written papers on why I’m an idiot, and I’ve written papers with the title and subject spelled wrong. I’ve written papers that include original haikus and I’ve written papers that include Jeffery Dahmer jokes. I had a 9 a.m. class that I slept through so often that once I went to class and completely forgot that I had shown up. Half of my P.E. credits come from playing the kazoo. I make jokes about whatever serious topic is being discussed in class, and I make jokes about people who could have me thrown out of college on a regular basis. If I do somehow manage to graduate, it will be entirely due to circumstance, and no fault of my own.
So three cheers for Circumstance! And take it easy on the Pomp.