Some thoughts on graduation (not limited to Harding's ceremony):
- "Pomp and Circumstance" is quite possibly the worst instrumental piece in the history of Western civilization. The New York Philhamonic could play the song and I'd still hate it. I'm not a march connoisseur by any means, but I can't imagine one more plodding than "P&C." As I suffered through a six-minute rendition of the song last night, I started wondering who in the world deemed it the "official" graduation song. Well, after I conducted a little research today, I found we have Edward Elgar and Samuel Sanford to thank for their excrutiating contribution to commencement tradition. "P&C" is actually called "March No.1" and is one of five marches (I can't begin to imagine how boring the other four have to be) in Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches. In 1905, Sanford, who was a music professor at Yale, enlisted a slew of musicians, including the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, to play the song during the graduation recession. He chose the song to honor his buddy Elgar, who was on hand to receive an honorary Doctorate of Music. Apparently the song then became the popular choice for graduations across the country. You'd think that in the past 102 years, someone could've written a song to replace it!
- Even when played by a small high school band, Copland's "Variations on a Shaker Melody" from Appalachian Spring is stirring.
- It would be fun to replace caps and gowns with sombreros and sarapes.
- Commencement addresses are superfluous. If someone polled 1,000 people about whether they could remember anything their high school commencement speaker said (and that includes graduates from this year), how many people would have even the faintest idea what their speaker said? Three? Maybe.
It doesn't matter whether a commencement speaker's address is one of the most moving speeches in the history of the English language or a cliche-ridden snoozefest. Why? Because no one goes to a graduation to hear someone talk. As someone who teaches seniors, I know that some of them struggle to pay to attention to anything starting the first week of school, so they certainly aren't going to focus on a long-winded speech when they're on the cusp of graduating. The only thing graduates want to hear is the principal calling their name so they can go on stage to receive their diploma; family and friends of graduates only care about seeing their graduate receive his or her diploma and taking pictures.
I remember who spoke at my graduation--Kris Osborn from Channel One--but I have absolutely no idea what he said. I was too busy trying to inconspicuously open my bag of confetti.
Our speaker last night delivered a solid message replete with some bits of humor, but he spoke for thirty minutes! (Somewhere around the ten-minute mark is when I started imagining how fun sombreros and sarapes would be.)
It's unlikely someone will ever ask me to give a commencement address, but just in case they do, I've composed the following speech: "Seniors, life passes quickly, so I'm not going to take any more of your time. Congratulations on finishing high school. God bless." That's worthy of a standing ovation, right?
- There needs to be a designated place (preferably a spacious one) for people to offer their congratulations to graduates after the ceremony. I had hoped to speak with some of my students last night, but after wading through a sea of humanity in the lobby for five minutes and not finding a single graduate, I headed for my car. (I learned today that all the seniors exit to the library following the ceremony--I wish I'd known that last night.)
- I'm glad I don't teach at a large school.
- I taught a good group of students this year. They weren't always the most studious bunch, but they were funny, respectful, and kind. I'll miss them next year.