Wednesday, 14 October 2009
There is nothing as sentimental as anticipating your graduation day, and there is nothing more successful at spoiling that sentimentality than learning how to order your graduation suits. The process in and of itself is actually rather simple – you get e-mails from the university telling you exactly when and where to get hold of them. The issue is in the price. Judging by what they charge you to rent it for a day, you’d think it had been hand-made by Princess Aurora. It’s quite bewildering, given that they do nothing but sit in some mummified wardrobe for the rest of the year. There’s also the option to buy it in case you feel the need for it, but who on earth does that? There is not a single item of clothing on the planet that you’re likely to use less often than a graduation coat, and unlike a proper suit, you can’t even recycle it. I mean, it’s not like you can go to a funeral twenty years later dressed in your old graduation coat, not unless you mean to have everybody there laughing until they spill their fucking kidneys out and their grandmother awakens from the dead (also laughing).
Once you’ve ordered the suit, usually with several months of advance, it is time to invite your family over. In my case, the family decides to come over with the numbers of a national pilgrimage. I have them come down a couple of days early so they can visit my city and all the rest, including of course my house. For the first time since entering that wreck, I even clear up the bottles from the floor and the champagne patches from the walls (the only night in my life that we purchased champagne, I chose to open it above my laptop – and the resulting acrobatics to keep it from spilling on the keyboard meant that the room looked like as in the aftermath of a paintball battle). Then I teach all of my housemates that even though I myself usually swear like a Germanic warrior who just tried to take a shit over a geyser, there is not to be a single ill term spoken in the presence of my family.
The day spent taking my folks around proves to be the most pleasant of them all, spent in shops and tourism and lovely meals which feel like Christmas out of season. The day after that, being the actual day of the ceremony, starts off with a little less panache. In order to pick up your suit from that sprog of blood-sucking vultures who have rented it to you, you must present yourself at the university at some barbarous hour between the blackest pitch of night and the first tremulous rays of dawn. Apparently, if you don’t have five hours of advance on the procession then you’re bound to fuck it up. If we weren’t about to get diplomas, I’d think they were calling us stupid.
I go to campus under the eyes of astonished ducks, who can not believe that I am up at this hour. I reach the building where I’m supposed to pick up my robe. At the counter, the lady puts a green bed-sheet in front of me and I assume that she wants to play billiards. It takes me a few moments to awaken from my stupor and realise that this is, in fact, my robe. No matter that it looks like something my grandmother could have made to save on resources during the war, it still costs like armour commissioned by Bruce Wayne. It comes with a salmon-coloured scarf which might be gratifying if its object were that of keeping you from getting run over, and of course the hat. The hat is the only part of my robe which I really love. I don’t know who invented it, surely someone with a great deal of imagination (a black, square piece of cardboard with a string hanging from it would never have occurred to me as a symbol of the intellect), but it is wonderfully endearing nonetheless.
There are a number of things to be done before the ceremony, presumably waking up the tutors who must have been sleeping until now, so I have the time to go and have breakfast with my family. When the hour comes for the ceremony, I head over to the lecture hall.
I hear that in Oxford and Cambridge they have medieval castles just for these ceremonies, with horns being blown and archers roaming about just in case. Our hall is distinctly less glossy – it used to be a basketball pitch and it is now filled with chairs and used as a lecture hall whenever there are too many students attending. It goes without saying that the place is now packed up to the walls.
I walk my family to their places and let them have a taste of what it’s like to take one of our classes as the Dean starts reciting his sermon. The only difference with respects to a regular lecture is that every tutor is dressed up like they had all been getting smashed at the Carnival of Rio.
When I am done with that bit, I head off to the side-corridor which gives onto the stage, where I am supposed to wait for my turn to pick up the diploma. There, I am faced with a queue so long it could not be handled by three airports. Maybe I should have brought along a Monopoly board, I think to myself. Time passes. I hear the name of every student being called out as they walk on stage in turn, shake hands with the Dean and pick up the degree. Since the conversation isn’t really running rampant (it is hard to formulate statements when you’re snoozing on your feet like a mule), I let my mind wander into reflections of my own. I reason that if I don’t think of something really solemn, I’m going to regret it in the future. So I begin looking back over my time at university and I ask myself what it is that I’ve learned. But it seems like the only spiritual thing for which it’s worth being a student is learning that I’m not interested in being a student – not anymore, at least. At that stage someone trips on his robe a few feet in front of me and I decide to postpone the pondering to distil some laughter from the episode. I’ll think of something wise later on. After all, I reason, I can always tell people that I thought it on the spot.
It is time to walk up on stage. From what I hear, people in Cambridge and Oxford are supposed to do all sorts of stuff as part of the ceremony – kneel in front of the Dean, recite some oath and even execute some somersaults on stage for all I know. I am thankful for the most fleeting of moments that I didn’t get into the elite of education – all I am asked to do is shake some guy’s hands. The Dean looks down into his book and spots my name. As soon as he pronounces it, I am startled by a boom from a section of the audience as I hear my family roar ‘BRAVO’ in unison. I smile, and I remind myself, in the middle of all this pomp and circumstance, that it is them that I have come here to honour, not the university. Why disappoint them, then? As I walk on stage, I kiss my fist like a footballer, then raise my arm and point it to the sky. A gesture of victory. The act is unorthodox and the Dean looks at me a little haughtily, but the old sock doesn’t have to worry. I don’t really intend to be immature anymore.