A 'Seinfeld' Graduation

Imagine the following: You're the parent of a graduating senior. Not just any senior - a really smart one who made the honors list. Your chip-off-the-old block has arrived. He or she will soon have in hand not just any sheepskin, but one with lofty Latin words of distinction.

You can't wait for the honors ceremony that will provide hints - pompous speeches, caps and gowns, professors, and the like - that all that money was worth it. You're primed to chat it up with all these intelligent people at the reception - only to find yourself shuttled into a "living room-like atmosphere" to watch the last episode of "Seinfeld."

Sure enough, after four years of hoping that Junior was gaining insights into Plato and quarks, you're all going to celebrate by watching a show about nothing.

That's what's happening at Fordham University in New York. According to the school, when officials realized that "two of the most significant events in the lives of these twenty-something New Yorkers were happening simultaneously," they took bold action. To avoid the embarrassment of honors students opting for a "Seinfeld" party instead of academic recognition, they brought the screen to the students.

Now this may be a good thing. A lot of students may in fact know a lot more about "nothing" than they do about their major. The deconstruction of "yada yada yada" and the "Soup Nazi" might yield livelier banter than, say, discourse on archetypes in Beowulf.

I'm probably being a little grim here. Many kids are used to mixing TV with education, witness Channel One, the program broadcast in many grade schools. And parents and children alike now belong to the TV generation, so maybe they like to watch something as they chat. A few academics chiming in might lend the conversation some heft.

But then I try to imagine my parents' faces if they had discovered that part of my rite of passage into the company of educated men and women included watching TV en masse.

I can understand fully why students would want to be together for Seinfeld's parting shot. The university does too, saying the reception is a fun way to end the school year. But maybe officials could have kept a little distance between the show and academic rituals. VCRs, after all, ensure that no one will ever again be able to miss anything. They can also allow academic tradition to be free of competition with whatever Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer have up their sleeves. At a graduation reception, such antics seem like too much background sound, signifying nothing.

* Send comments to: Learning Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA, 02115 or e-mail newcomba@csps.com

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