Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yellow Curbs and Green Lawns

They are painting the curbs here on campus this week. Commencement time has come again.

There are two moments on the academic calendar every year that form the two defining peaks of most college graduates' academic careers: Orientation and Commencement.

At these two moments the emotions are the purest, the least encumbered by reality and fate. At these two moments, all bets are off, the world is open and the possibilities are endless.

Leaving aside the experience of Orientation not least because not every student goes through it, it will suffice to say that there is still a moment in every student's career when, newly admitted to the Institution, they are 'fresh'. They as yet have no marks, either for or against them. At this unique moment new students feel--if only for that brief moment--that the possibilities before them are, if not limitless, varied enough to inspire an unashamed excitement and foster an emerging ambition.

This inspiration and ambition, if a bit artificial, are good things, too, or there would be no chance of an average student surviving the journey on which he or she is embarking. The deep trough that is the educational experience is considerable, and rising to the peak on the other side is no small accomplishment.

Commencement, the springtime celebration of that collective accomplishment here at the University, has, as it always does, come round again. And I am, as much ever, energized by it.

Why the good mood? Well, for a few short days in May, the campus has a wonderfully festive air about it. I welcome it because it brings both an emotional change of pace and a physical renewal of our environment.

For example, every year--no matter what the fiscal situation of the University might be (and it is forever dire)-- in addition to the freshly-painted curbs, we always see the South Lawn freshly re-sodded in early May. It appears as if overnight, though I know it always takes a couple of weeks, like the assembly of the metal risers and the massive stage that also 'magically' appear on the South Mall at the same time.

The bright green new South Lawn is surrounded by yellow warning tape until the evening of Commencement. This year there is a new set of even brighter orange stanchions with shiny black plastic chains preserving the virgin grass for the parade of graduates to come next week.

Then, on the evening of Commencement, that horde will march the South Lawn into near submission as they make their collective way up to the South Mall for fireworks and blessings from the President.

By this time, all those in attendance should have already received their 'fake' diplomas on a stage in their College with their Dean, so the march up the South Lawn for the final benediction is simply symbolic. It is an important symbol nonetheless.

It's a great day for students and staff alike. The graduates get their degrees and a special moment of empowerment. We get all that great energy, plus freshly painted curbs and a slightly worn but green South Lawn for the summer. Hook 'Em!

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