Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why I Don't Like Graduations

Graduation season is upon us yet again, and I couldn't be less excited about it.  I don't like graduations, I never have, and I doubt I ever will. I didn't bother to go to my own doctoral graduation because it would have been absolutely unbearable, but will continue to be stuck with the task of going to these ceremonies due to my chosen profession.  (At least, unlike at the university level, I will no longer have to sit through over a thousand names being called.)

In the first place, graduations are dreadfully boring. There is just no getting around this fact, no matter how hard you try. Most of their running time consists of names being read off from a list, something that's about as stimulating as watching paint dry. The rest of the usual graduation ceremony is filled by speeches typically of the most boring, sanctimonious, and vapid quality.

For instance, many valedictorians are completely uninteresting by their very nature. They are not especially creative or insightful, but good at getting top grades, and for this skill are allowed to speak banalities to a captive audience. Their tiresome addresses drone on with the usual platitudes that fall into two categories "isn't it great that we made it" and "this is just the beginning of the future." My high school graduating class had three (!) valedictorians, only one of whom could give a speech without mumbling, and his was one of the worst speeches I've ever heard in my life. A friend in my sister's class gave the only good valedictorian speech I've ever heard, mostly because it eschewed the traditional bullshit and attacked the petty clique-ishness and intelligence-insulting nature of my high school. It was the speech I would have given had I could.

If it's not grindy, teacher's pet students talking interminably, it's some lame-ass dignitary or politician puffed up on his or her self-importance. They purport to give students the wisdom of their years, but usually end up sounding barely more insightful than the high school students three decades younger than them.

What annoys me most about graduations, however, is their pervasive self-congratulatory aura, especially at the high school level. Let's be honest here, it is hardly a great accomplishment to graduate from high school nowadays, considering the lowered standards and pressure for teachers not to fail students. I would even be so bold to say that it hardly counts as any kind of accomplishment at all.  As far as higher education goes, I didn't really consider getting my degrees worthy of celebration. When I went into my doctoral program, I did it with the intent of getting my PhD. By graduating, I was merely doing what I had set out to do! Going to graduation seemed ridiculous to me, like expecting a parade for paying my taxes, or having a party to celebrate my lack of reckless driving citations.

(Of course, there are plenty of people out there who have had to overcome great personal obstacles in order to go to college and graduate, and I am fine with them getting excited about graduation. These students, however, are a decided minority.)

What bugs me almost as much is the fact that so many graduates don't even respect the ceremony that they think is so damn important. Until my senior year, the graduation ceremonies at my high school were a complete joke. The graduates talked the whole time, bounced beach balls, and shot silly string at each other. When the administrators cracked down, my mouth-breather classmates complained, saying it was "their day" and they should be able to do whatever they wanted to, as if their graduation from high school was some kind of great accomplishment demanding respect. At that point I wished attending graduation wasn't mandatory to recieve my diploma, because I had no desire to be "honored" along with a bunch of lazy, self-entitled dopes.

As many of you know, I am on a personal crusade against mediocrity, and no ritual in this country exudes mediocrity more than the typical graduation, from the speeches on down to taking pride in that which you were supposed to do in the first place.

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