Pomp and Circumstance

I apologize for my nearly month-long absence, but as you may remember, it’s been busy here at Casa Verde in recent weeks. We barely got past the election (from which we did not emerge victorious, sadly, as the 2014 political cycle was not a good time to be a Democrat in Texas. Or anywhere else in the country, it seems), and Thanksgiving was looming. As were multiple academic deadlines.

Papers and projects came due, followed by a frenzied period of food prep and house cleaning. Immediately after Turkey Day, I was waist-deep in a work project, my final 20 hours of practicum service, and more school assignments. But of course, it all got finished satisfactorily.

Yes, last Saturday, 12/13/14, my biggest project in recent times reached its conclusion. After three and a half years of plodding along, I completed my master’s degree, and the good folks at Texas Woman’s University saw fit to provide me with a diploma to mark the occasion.

And this being one of the most important milestones I’ve ever passed, I determined early on (like, the day I first enrolled in my classes) that when the time came, I would absolutely walk the stage to collect that diploma.

Now, I know many college graduates skip the formality of the graduation ceremony. Had I not been insistent that they do so, I don’t think either of my kids would have walked for their diplomas when they finished college. They recognized the accomplishment, but neither of them was particularly concerned with the pageantry of the graduation ceremony. They both walked because they knew it was important to me. Moms need pictures of events like this, even if the event is just for show.

And it really is for show. When you cross the stage, you don’t get your real diploma. It’s just a diploma cover with a facsimile inside that says something along the lines of “Congratulations! It appears you have completed your degree, and if we check over your records and make sure you actually passed your classes this semester, and you don’t have any outstanding library fines or parking tickets, meaning you don’t owe this institution any money, your actual diploma will be mailed to you in the next six to seven weeks.”

But even knowing that the ceremony is all for show didn’t dissuade me. Perhaps it’s because, as educational endeavors go, I’m something of a late bloomer, which is all you can call someone who finishes a BA at age 36, and an MS at 53. But I love graduations. I find something grand and magical and even a little humbling about them, be they mine or someone else’s.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to know that for me, part of this majesty is because of the music. Edward Elgar’s concert march, played at almost every high school and college commencement ceremony in the United States since 1905, never fails to put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

Elgar began writing the piece in 1901, as one of five marches called the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. The first of the five is the one we all know and recognize as the Graduation March, or simply “Pomp and Circumstance.” It was not written for graduations originally, but was played during the recessional following the commencement ceremony at Yale University in 1905. It was there that Elgar received an honorary doctorate, and the march was played in his honor. It was so popular that it began to be played at other graduation ceremonies, and a tradition was born.

What may come as more of a surprise is my fascination with graduation regalia. The older I get, the more I have become a blue jeans and tee-shirt kind of girl. I’m not big on dressing up, and will usually opt for comfort over style, but for this event, I was thrilled to do it up right.

The week before the ceremony, Mark and I made the 40 mile drive to Denton, where TWU is located, to pick up my regalia. I was given a traditional black robe with burgundy trim and a black mortarboard with a burgundy and white tassel, reflecting my school colors. When you earn a master’s degree, they throw in what’s known as a hood, a satin and velvet shawl which hangs across your shoulders and drapes down your back. One side was gold velvet, the color representing the Master of Science degree, with burgundy and white satin on the other side.

When I got back to the office, I took everything inside, hung the gown on the side of my cube, and draped the hood over the shoulders. I told myself I was doing this to let the wrinkles start to fall out, but mostly, I just wanted to admire it. I sat at my desk for a long time, looking at the robe and hood. And yes, I started to get a little misty-eyed.

I took the cap out of its plastic bag and attached the tassel to it. The rest of the regalia was lovely, but the cap needed some work. And I had a Foo-inspired idea for it.

A little back story: nearly two decades ago, while working toward my bachelor’s degree, I often joked that I would probably not graduate until donkeys could fly. By May of 1998, however, after 18 years of off and on college attendance, I finally finished.

I knew that sometimes, graduates would decorate and adorn their mortarboards. It was usually some grateful sentiment, like the words “Thanks Mom and Dad!”, or perhaps a line of scripture. Those didn’t fit my particular situation, but we had something more whimsical in mind.

As we drove to the ceremony, Celeste, then 12, painted the cap with the words “Look! Donkeys Can Fly”, using a bottle of Liquid Paper, as that was what we had on hand. The phrase, complete with two eyes in the O’s of “look”, was not only unique, but from their seats in the balcony, my family could easily find me in the sea of graduates below.

This go-round, it was all about the Foos, of course. I’ve said before, and know absolutely, that had it not been for the band, there would have been no master’s degree. I owe this milestone, in large part, to them, for the inspiration and courage and audacity their music provided me.

This time, we did the cap right. Celeste and I bought paint and brushes at the craft store. She diligently outlined a design and painted with care, then carefully applied spikes and rhinestones with a hot glue gun. It was perfect for me.

Last Saturday, my uniform included a simple yet classic black dress and a pair of ass-kicking pony hair leopard pumps. I even wore my pearls. When we arrived at the ceremony, I donned my regalia. I was ready to walk.
I saw lots of caps with biblical quotes, some expressing thanks to parents, and even a flag of Texas. But nobody else had a mortarboard nearly as spectacular as mine!

See?

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2 thoughts on “Pomp and Circumstance

  1. You have a good sense of tradition, Kelly (it’s a Jewish thing, I suspect)! You know what it means to have fun to celebrate accomplishment.

    To set the record straight, at TCU they give you your real diploma at that ceremony. Your kids got the one with their name on it. It’s accomplished through a walkie-talkie between those faculty getting the students in line and others madly pulling the diplomas of those who don’t show up at the last moment. I did the job for years because I would rather do a job than sit on a folding chair for hours. That little touch always touched my heart. Academic regalia is supposed to be street clothing of those who work hard. The hood tells which school you graduated from and the degree you received. All schools use the same set of colors for the degrees. You were radiant on Saturday. Foos Fighters don’t know what they are missing yet! You can dance and sing, “Tradition….”

  2. I’m impressed with TCU’s ability to pull off same-day service! And thanks for the explanation. The guy at the bookstore just handed me my stuff, without benefit of explanation. I did see the color chart and I asked if he was sure I had the right color. During the line-up before the ceremony, I was directed to the “MS” sign and instructed to figure out where to place myself alphabetically, but that was about it.

    Tradition! Indeed…

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