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Commencement 2012

posted: 7.5.12 by Andrea Lunsford

If the fall is my very favorite time of year because that’s when the new class of students arrives on campus, my second favorite time is spring commencement.  After all these years, I still love taking part in all the celebrations.  The week of June 15, my campus was practically levitating with anticipation and happiness, starting with Phi Beta Kappa initiation and Provost’s reception on Friday evening, it was non-stop fun.  Giddy students dashed in all directions, their parents and grandparents trailing behind them as if holding onto a bridal train.  Awards ceremonies abounded, as did smaller private celebrations:  hotels were full beyond capacity and every restaurant was packed.  This is the beginning of the rest of their lives, and they know it.

On commencement day itself, I always arrive early, parking on the edge of campus and walking the mile or so over to my building.  At Stanford, the “big” commencement takes place around 9:30, and I’m usually there right on time.  The students here refuse to march or get in line:  instead, they carry out the traditional “Stanford surge,” which means that they all more or less run pell-mell into the stadium shouting and waving, their mortar boards often adorned with signs, symbols, or even statues!  Eventually they settle in and remain fairly calm during the proceedings, only to leap out of their seats and dash around the moment they are over, finding family and friends and heading over to the main campus for their departmental ceremonies.  Faculty have to hustle too:  this year, I wanted and needed to be at the English, History, Feminist Studies, and Education ceremonies, and they all more or less overlapped.  Still, I made it to part of all of them, got to “hood” a Ph.D. candidate, congratulate an M.A. whose thesis I directed as well as several writers of honors theses, and hug dozens of new graduates.  I shook hands with parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents, as well as lots of other relatives.  One student from Hawaii, whose mother had never been away from the island, kept shaking her head and saying, “I can’t believe it; I just can’t believe it.”

This year commencement fell on Father’s Day, so that added to the festive air.  But by mid-day, we were all straining to keep up a good front.  It was 99 degrees—unusual but not unheard of—and my black robes had never felt more sticky or suffocating.   Ambulances dotted the campus, and I saw at least one person being carried on a stretcher from the law school toward one of them.  Water coolers, thank heavens, were plentiful, but nothing remotely resembling a cool breeze stirred.  I was reminded of a summer at the Bread Loaf Graduate School, when we took bets for who had sweated the greatest quantity.  Whatever that total for me that year, I outdid it in 2012.

In rhetorical terms, commencement is an epideictic occasion, one that focuses on praise and celebration.  I’ve always been drawn to the epideictic, perhaps because I like marking special moments with special words.  Watching the students cross platforms and stages, receive their diplomas, hear the words “Congratulations, graduate” – and seeing their faces so full of hope and joy, well, it gets me every time.  It’s impossible for me not to be ebullient on such a day, knowing that these students—my students, our students—are setting sail for the future, hoping so very much that they can make it a good one.

Congratulations, all graduates everywhere!

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