Whether it is a high school graduation or a college commencement, this is a time of both celebration and cerebration. It is when students celebrate having "made the grade," and when they think about the difficulties overcome thus for and the challenges that lie ahead.
It is, or should be, a festive occasion, a little like a birthday party or a wedding. Friends and relatives gather to honor the graduate for his or her accomplishment. Members of earlier classes have reunions, enjoying the oppotunity to meet old friends who, everyone says, look no older, and to mix fun with nostalgia.
At high school graduation exercises, speeches are made by the valedictorian and the salutatorian, by the principal and perhaps by the superintendent, and by a speaker who gets an honorarium -- a big word for a small fee.
At a college commencement, speeches are usually given by a student or students chosen by members of the graduating class, by the college president, and by a "big name" speaker who, instead of an honorarium, may get an honorary degree.
Except for speeches by students, who in this respect seem wiser than their elders, most speak a little too long, especially speakers who introduce speakers. I have never heard of a graduation or commencement speaker who was criticized for speaking too briefly. In "Going Around in Academic Circles," one of my satires on higher education, I playfully remark: "The bright spot of most commencement addresses is when the speaker's notes blow off the lectern."
But the speeches, even when too long or too cliche-ridden, are a traditional part of the ceremony.The intention is to congratulate the graduating students and to wish them well in the years ahead.
There may have been difficulty meeting certain academic requirements. There may have been financial sacrifices made by members of the family. But the graduates, now being honored, have made it. Before the ceremony is over, each holds that cherished prize, a diploma.
The word "diploma," by the way, had a somewhat different meaning than the original Latin, which in turn came from Greek. It meant a paper folded double. Now, however, the diploma is usually rolled and tied with a ribbon, later to be framed and hung on the wall.
This testimonial of achievement and determination may not have the glitter of cups and plaques, but it should give the owner even greater sat isfaction.
To all graduates, congratulations and best wishes.