My friends and I slogged our way over the Locust Walk bridge and down past Huntsman, moving just fast enough to still call it moving.
We were near the back of the procession, behind the dental students who proudly hoisted their battle flag, a five-foot toothbrush. It was a prime opportunity for a cappella groups to flier because there was nowhere to run. Some woman was trying to get to her graduating son whom she missed as he walked by, but she got stuck on the bridge and smashed up against the side by the mob. Poor mother didn't think to go around. Penn genes must have come from Dad.
As we entered the stadium, the cell phones came out. "I'm just coming in. We're behind the dentists - they're holding a toothbrush . no, on the other side . no, Mom, the toothbrush, find the toothbrush."
We circled the wrong way because we were all on the phone and not watching where we were going, and eventually we were herded to our seats by an overworked usher/professor.
Now seated, the "where's my son/daughter?" game continued. I told my mom I was wearing a black gown and hat, but she didn't find it funny.
Meanwhile my friend Dan was the local hero because he wisely brought a red and silver party balloon on a 15-foot string. It turned 10 minutes of "no! I'm six rows behind the 33-yard line" while standing on a chair into "just find the balloon, Mom," for everyone around us.
Finally, more than an hour after we started off, Commencement actually started. To my surprise, many sang the anthem, but not to my surprise few bowed their heads during the prayer, though I did hear lots of peer-pressure-mumbled "amen"s.
It wasn't that hot, but by the time President Gutmann approached the podium, jet-black polyester gowns and hats were draped over chairs. (Some medieval son-of-a-bitch must not have liked undergraduates).
We perused the programs, devoid of anything worth reading, and sipped our complementary water as the presentation of the honorary degrees began.
Aretha Franklin got the biggest applause, Justice Ginsburg, in a top hat, got the most snickers, and Mildred Dresselhaus got lots of "who the hell is Mildred Dresselhaus?"
After that, it was time for fellow honorary degree recipient James Baker's address.
Provost Ron Daniels gave what Baker himself correctly characterized as an overly generous introduction. I thought to myself, "Why a neo-fascist anti-Semite?" when Ginsburg and Franklin were both within 10 feet of the podium. I secretly hoped Aretha would shove Baker out of the way, grab the mic and break into "Respect," but, alas, she remained seated.
Baker began by mentioning Ben Franklin five times in the first minute and a half, and he used almost as many of Franklin's words as his own. Godwin's Law states that anyone who uses the Nazis to prove a point automatically loses their argument, and, from now on, anyone at Penn who references Ben Franklin does the same.
But the speech was not all Franklinian wisdom. Baker also imparted the knowledge that college students will cheer whenever beer is mentioned; our generation "must address many complex problems"; and Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. were great leaders because "they knew what to do and did it."
At the end of his 20-minute life-altering address, people politely clapped, and some even stood up after they were awakened by their friends.
Then it was the official conferring of the degrees, President Gutmann's Gutmannesque closing and the singing of the "Red and Blue," which proved that Penn is not Penn State or any state school. Few could sing the song without the lyrics, and just as many didn't hold their arm out long enough during "hurrah for the Red and the Blue-ue-ue." My frat-brother roommate Scott was particularly disappointed.
As the song ended, we tossed our hats, but it looked nothing like the movies. We didn't do it all at one time, we didn't throw them very high, people were annoyed by being hit, and, after we threw them, we quickly searched for a replacement so we could take argumentless pictures with our parents.
The faculty filed out, and so did we, each of us going in different directions, pushing past the as usual pain-in-the-ass security as we tried to track down our family and friends.
Commencement, and college, was over.
However, I didn't let it get me down. There were free sandwiches and wine in the alumni house, and, well, I was an alumnus.
Alex Weinstein is a 2007 College alumnus from Bridgeport, W.Va. His e-mail address is AW505@aol.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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