Funny that the end of the scholastic road for so many students is called commencement, which denotes a beginning.
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Funny that the end of the scholastic road for so many students is called commencement, which denotes a beginning. Like so much nowadays, the word conveys several other meanings: to start, to confer, to convey approval or praise. All of these synonyms remain relevant to the occasion we also call graduation. Given the way the world is changing by the day, that’s one small reassurance! Imagine if some instant messaging service promoting itself as an unabashed truth teller used the word commencement to describe the circumstance of someone in their twenties who is deep in debt with questionable life skills to pay it back.
Is it too late now to rant on about the absurdity of current trends in higher education? Very well. I won’t. Except to say few sane people would agree to finance the purchase of a Rolls Royce when they come from a Ford Focus household.
I’ve sat through my share of commencement addresses and must admit that the tidbits of wisdom which struck me at the time did not revisit me in the moments I could have used some sage advice. For a time, I copied them onto sticky notes to leave on the fridge for quick reference. But then the more philosophical directives got all jumbled together with the everyday notes. I showed up for a committee potluck with nothing but a sense of wonder and drank in everything there — much to the annoyance of the other members. I’ve since learned how to better blend the small stuff into the big picture so once in a while everything really does make sense. Only now I smugly question why so many others can’t accept real life over conspiracy theories.
A more obscure meaning of the word commencement is to commit to one’s charge. Now, to someone just out of school (who therefore think they know far more than they really do) this type of commencement can be a real challenge. What exactly is one’s charge? One graduation speaker referred to it this way: Your talent is your mandate. He was probably referring to the example that people who are good, say, at teaching others should pursue a career in education. Harder to discern a life path for people who perfected techniques for chugging beer while being held upside down.
Whatever the future holds, I can affirm regardless of the declarations on one’s diploma the tests will not end. Ever. Think you’ve scored well exercising patience while finding your niche? Great! Get ready for a test of your faith in the goodwill of fellow earthlings. Did you pass that one? Okay. Here’s a surprise exam on your fortitude to successfully come through the other side of disease or disaster or discord with previously supportive loved ones. Good luck. Chug some beer if you need to.
Because the tests never end, and in many cases seem to reoccur in patterns, the people who manage better are the ones who never stop learning.Take the sales clerk who keeps losing his job because customers complain about his rudeness.The first time, he assumes it’s not his fault. The second time he decides sales isn’t his forte. But his resume leads him into another sales job where his manager warns him about his rudeness but also adds a bit of advice: This job is your chance to be excellent. Bouyed by a new perspective, the sales clerk finally understands how one treats others reflects on oneself. All kinds of helpful revelations will follow.
So the actual and pragmatic meaning of commencement is school lasts forever. That’s one you can stick on the fridge.
Judy Allison has enjoyed a long and varied career in media and has written for newspapers, magazines, cable TV, government entities and elected officials. She and her dog Torrey the Wonder-Bouvier wander through many neighborhoods in the region.
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