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A Gentle Reminder of What Graduation Commencements are All About

graduation commencement

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took a trip to the northeast to witness … get this … three different college graduations in one week. That’s right. Three. ON PURPOSE! Daunting? If you consider the possibility of sitting through 8-10 hours of graduation ceremonies stretched across three states challenging, yeah, I guess you could say it was daunting. Sure, we love and are super proud of our nieces and nephews. And we love to travel. But THREE graduations? Couldn’t you just record it on your iPhones, upload it to YouTube, and tell us the good parts to watch?

The first commencement was at the University of Connecticut (UConn – Go, Huskies!) in Gampel Pavilion, where all women’s college basketball teams go to automatically lose to Geno Auriemma’s women Huskies.

Uconn Class of 2017

Olivia with her parents (Sharon and Dan) at UConn graduation.

The second was in Boston for the Berklee School of Music (Go, Trebel Clefs! – actually I don’t know if they have a mascot or not). And finally, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (Go Blue Devils!). Personally, I thought all devils were red. But, hey, I guess it’s their school, their rules.

Berklee School of Music Class of 2017

The second commencement was in Boston. Dyami (the graduate) with his sister Lena and brother Kirby. We watched Kirby graduate from Duke the following day to finish our commencement marathon.

That’s quite a bit of traipsing around considering all the travel that went with it. UConn’s graduation was first on a Sunday, followed by five days off for us to wander around New England in 40-50 degree weather (don’t they know it’s May?), then followed by the next weekend with back-to-back commencements at Berklee and Duke.

On paper, it appeared to be a challenging a trip.

Stereotypical commencement imagery rattled around in my conscious. Endless speeches with platitudes about future success and then the interminable march of students grabbing their well-earned diplomas. But a funny thing happened on the the way to the dais. Like the Grinch, our hearts grew three times those days. We heard words of hope. Of excitement. Of possibilities. Of enthusiasm. And of parents crying over the relief of not racking up any more tuition bills.

We heard from people of major accomplishment. At Duke, it was Craig Venter, a man who led a team that sequenced the human genome. At Berklee, we heard from musicians Lionel Richie and Todd Rundgren, along with Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (i.e. the people who award the Grammys). At Duke, Loretta Lynch, former U.S. Attorney General, made an appearance – as well as the guy who invented CAPTCHA (that’s the thing you see on websites when you leave a comment to prove you’re a real person – not a spammer or a robot).

Imagine this guy at a bar, trying to impress the ladies:

Woman: (TWIRLING HER HAIR) So, what do you do?

Guy: (SMUGLY) I invented CAPTCHA!

Woman: Gesundheit!

Lionel Richie speaks to the Berklee Class of 2017. Pardon the bad cell phone video. Apparently no official video was offered.

In each case, following the handing out of diplomas (which usually ends with someone named Zeke Zachary Zimmerman IV receiving the biggest applause of the day), …

…a proclamation was made, the newly minted graduates moved their tassels from left to right, camera flashes popped, mortarboards flew, hearts swelled with pride, and legions of parents scrambled to the restrooms simultaneously for desperately needed potty breaks.

For us, it was watching a nephew graduating from Berklee, one of the toughest music schools in the country. It was a niece graduating from UConn, landing on her feet, with a psychology research position waiting for her at Yale University (Go Bulldogs!). And for our Duke graduate, after finishing his internship in Austin, Texas this summer, has a job waiting for him here at home with the digital division of The Tampa Bay Times writing about politics. It’s just too bad our humble President hasn’t said too much lately worth writing about.

Everywhere we went, there were hugs and cheers and the promise of tomorrow.

The vibe of possibilities. What these kids are so excited about experiencing is a reminder of what has been made available to all of us. Not just to graduating seniors. And what that is is an opportunity to leave our stamp on the world. It’s something we all take for granted, and it takes something like a graduation ceremony (maybe even three graduation ceremonies) to get it through our thickening heads that the opportunity we seek is always with us. You just have to reach out and grab it.

To Dyami (Berklee), Olivia (UConn), Kirb (Duke), and Lena (who’s graduation at Smith College I unfortunately had to miss last year), and last year graduate Kat Wilson (University of Tampa), the world awaits you to make this a better place.

University of Tampa Class of 2016

Kat Wilson graduating laster year from University of Tampa, pictured with her proud Aunt Cheryl.

Yours and fellow graduates’ excitement for the future has refilled our buckets and has us ready to take on the world again. To which I humbly say, “Go Graduates!”


P.S. Finally, Cheryl and I can rest from our graduation tour. That is, until leaving for Atlanta this weekend for a high school graduation. “Go Kyle!”


About The Author

John Parrish
John Parrish is Vice President, Creative Services for Marketing In Color and has worked on brands such as Outback Steakhouse, Madico Window Films, Pitney Bowes, Progressive Auto Insurance, Edwards (United Technologies), Kash n’ Karry Food Stores, Home Shopping Network, The Villages of Florida, CareCredit, Dollar Rent A Car, Super Kmart, and dozens more.
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