Memories and Musings: Graduation Day

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, June 4, 2020

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By Gene Gallelli

With all we are dealing with now, along with the time of year and season, “graduations” seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There is so much more to a “Graduation Day” than what is described in the “oldie” hit song recorded by The Four Freshmen (1960s), and more recently, The Beach Boys. Yes, everyone who has crossed the stage in a cap and gown can relate to the lyric: “It’s time for joy, a time for tears, a time we’ll treasure through the years.”

When reflecting on the difficult school years leading to graduation, many of us have laughed at goofy Senior Prom memories or shed a tear remembering the love lost moments of “breaking-up” with that special someone after “going steady” since our Junior year.

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When attempting to list all the events that lead up to “Graduation Day,” we forget that for most it is a life-changing experience replete with meaningful traditions and ceremonies that have become so ingrained and understood that we fail to link them to the many symbols and gestures that are displayed and paraded on, off and across the graduation stage.

For example, that “flat top” hat (mortarboard) and long, shiny robe symbolize belonging to a very specific group that have together shared a similar four-year experience. (If, however, you spotted that ensemble being worn in the post office on Tuesday morning, it would probably be considered strange . . . or some new fashion statement!) Hoods represent the graduate’s field of study: white represents liberal arts; apricot is for nursing; blue, for education, etc.

The seemingly simple tradition of crossing the stage to receive a diploma is not just an example of stage management, but a symbol of crossing from one life to another; a rite of passage. Most diplomas end up hung on bedroom or hallway walls forever like elementary school art works that hang on refrigerators until they decompose.

The rolled-up or leather-bound diploma received mid-stage with a handshake is a treasured symbol that represents what the graduate has accomplished, frequently accompanied by a title of distinction (cum laude, associate, master, doctor, nurse, valedictorian, salutatorian, etc.). Traditionally, there is a salutatorian (second highest academic record) and a valedictorian (highest academic record) recognized at every graduation ceremony who deliver the “welcome” and “farewell” addresses, respectively.

(A well-kept secret is that there may be exceptions when students who have not met the academic requirements for a diploma are allowed to “walk” with their classmates because they have contributed to their class or institution in “other ways” considered important or significant.)

The graduation ceremony has gone through many changes since its austere, solemn, almost church-like inception. While tossing caps in the air and cheering after tassels have been moved together by the graduating class have become quite common, don’t be surprised to see a seated graduating class bouncing an inflated beach ball back and forth.

This year’s graduating classes have been denied the ceremonial rite-of-passage they have worked so hard to obtain. We can congratulate them by keeping them in our thoughts and hearts as they cross into their new worlds.

Because so much more than can properly be described, defined or symbolically understood is attributed to differing individual and group priorities, beliefs and values, there is, perhaps, a final lyric to the aforementioned song most everyone can agree to one way or another: “We’ll remember always, Grad-u-a-tion Day!”

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.



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