Graduation time is here. Invitations to attend graduation exercises have been arriving. At our age, these invitations are from grandchildren of our relatives and friends.
There was a time in polite society, as our family knew it, when the proper response to such an invitation was an appropriate gift. Now our response is money and everyone is happy.
I did not attend the commencement exercises of my 1950 college class. I was already working about a hundred miles from OU and I didn’t care to join the huge group. I gleefully joined my high school class in 1944 for the big day.
In Snyder, Oklahoma, the graduation and baccalaureate services were the highlights of the spring social season. The school auditorium was packed every year.
That year, there were twenty-seven of us seniors nervously awaiting the clue to enter the auditorium and join the assembly. Upon the first strains on the piano of the great march “Pomp and Circumstance”, we lost our jitters, held our heads high and all moved slowly forward in the same cadence to our seats of honor.
The only thing I remember about that ceremony was the tension I felt and perspiration I shed as I laboriously read a speech prepared for me to deliver. There was a song delivered by a trio of our female classmates but I do not remember the song or the names of the girls.
It seems ironic that the invitations to honor the graduating seniors are usually called invitations to a commencement exercises. For many it is the end of structured learning. It is also the commencement of learning provided by life and experience. For some, it is the start of higher education.
There was no doubt about the immediate future of the boys graduating in 1944. They would be called into military service. WWII was over about fifteen months later and we were soon discharged. Those who wished could pursue higher learning paid by the taxpayers under the G.I. Bill. Further planning was up to the individual.
In the last few years, I attended three or so high school graduation exercises for relatives graduating from large schools. There was not much similarity to these from the ones in my hometown years ago. These large school ceremonies were held in huge field houses with every seat filled and the doorways dangerously crowded. The audiences reminded me of crowds at a circus.
Then, the high school band began playing “Pomp and Circumstance” and the assemblage calmed down as if a prayer was being given. The seniors stood tall and moved forward in an orderly fashion as my class had done. This process took twenty minutes or more. The many speeches started and the crowd got loud again.
Upon the presentation of each diploma, that student’s supporters indicated their approval with applause, shouting and a few noisemakers sounds. This confusion did not always calm down before the next name was announced. This did not make for happy people.
As soon as our family member received his award, we fled the noise and discomfort to a relatively quiet location and the graduate would meet us later.
Each time I reflect on these big school ceremonies, I think that it would be more civilized to mail the diplomas. But after giving it more thought, I realize that we all shared the same experience when we marched down the aisle for our last high school event. When we hear that tune again, we again stand tall and the pride of our school days and friends returns, regardless of the school size.
May “Pomp and Circumstance” be with us forever as a part of every graduation exercise.
Post Script 1:
Post Script 2:
Last week, our friend Virginia Cranor attended the ceremony at MIT where her grandson received his master’s degree. Yes, that august group marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” much like I did in 1944.