Friday, December 17, 2004

Pomp, circumstance, and woooo-wooooo

I spent 3+ hours attending UNCG's December graduation ceremonies feeling alternately celebratory, bemused, bored, and sore (my, those folding chairs are hard). And bored.

My bemusement came from the shouting, whooping, and general celebration among the audience as the graduates crossed the stage. At first I was offended, since I'm a pretty intensely traditional person. I actually like Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, and wish they would play it at graduation ceremonies, even though it's now utterly corny to do so. I'm a "joyful solemnity" kind of guy.

The black families generally shouted the loudest and longest for their graduates, but they had stiff competition in the wooo-wooo department from what I'm tempted to call NASCAR families. I thought, how gauche -- especially when some of the shouting drowned out the names of the next graduates in line. That was rude.


I don't think that there's actually much real tradition in American graduation ceremonies. The standards for academic regalia apparently weren't adopted until the late 19th century. And, hey, Pomp and Circumstance wasn't written until 1901. All this faux solemnity seems to have been an attempt by America's aspiring class to aquire some ersatz cachet from Oxford and Cambridge.

But Americans have always been louder and more boistrous than Brits and Europeans. And contrary to what you might have heard lately, Americans have never been all that popular across the Atlantic. So what, precisely, is the point of trying to be like them?

Furthermore, the people in the audience had a lot to celebrate. I got the impression that many of the families were cheering for their first college graduate -- ever. The joy on those families' faces was contagious. How can you not celebrate something like that?

So there was a whole lot of cultural assimilation going on yesterday. It was a weird mixture of American 19th-century medieval-university costme revival, modern American university requirements and customs, black Baptist revival-meeting sensibility, Scotch-Irish good-ole-boy hootin' and hollerin', and quite a few restrained Anglo-types like me. Throw in all those M.S. graduates with Hindi, Chinese, Korean, and African names, and what you have is a real melting pot.


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