Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Commencements, Conniptions, and Crazy People

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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  1. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Most higher education institutions missed their commencements.

    No accounting for taste, but I’m kind of surprised that many students actually care. I skipped mine because I didn’t want to sit through the whole ceremony and deal with traffic coming and going. I always thought commencement was mostly for family.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      The commencement itself is probably exaggerated in its role here, because as you say a lot of people skip it. There is still the loss of closure, and finish projects/goals before the next stage, whether or not there is a formal ceremony accompanying it.

      I think this is more sharply felt for high-school kids (prom, spring musical/concert/sports), but students are more closely connected to annual cycles than the rest of us.Report

    • Avatar Michael Siegel in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      It depends. For students who are the first in their family to go to college, especially from poor or immigrant families, it can be a huge deal (although probably more to the family than to them).Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    Plus, historically your odds of becoming president are better if you weren’t VP.

    How do you figure? Determining out the true causal effect sounds quite difficult, given the limited data points and wide variety of confounders. Obviously a Vice President has greatly elevated odds of becoming President (14/48 = 29%) relative to, say, a randomly selected Senator or Governor from a large state. That’s not really a proper control, but I’m skeptical that 30% of all Vice Presidents would have become President in some hypothetical universe where their respective running mates had decided to go with the #2 choice.Report

  3. fillyjonk fillyjonk
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    says:

    In any given year, between 1/3 and 1/2 of our graduates are “first generation” college students – the first in their family to have attended college. It is a BIG DEAL for many of the families and no small point of pride.

    I admit, as I enter what is probably the second half of my career as a prof, I get a little tired of trucking out to every commencement (we are asked to attend* and have to fill out a form if we don’t). I don’t like the frequently self-serving speeches by minor politicians, I hate the air horns some people smuggle in to the arena, it’s hot, and it’s long.

    But I still go. Because of those first-gen students. Because of their parents and their siblings. And because, once or twice,one of my now-former students has caught me in the hall either before or after the ceremony and either high fived me, or hugged me, or shaken my hand and told me their thanks…..and that makes all of this kind of worth it, knowing you had a good effect on someone’s life.

    I will miss that this year, actually. I realize now how much *I* depend on it as a marker of “the semester is now over, time to move on to preparing for the next….” And this year there’s NOTHING – often the weekend between classes’ end and finals, I would go antiquing – can’t do that this year. In a virus-less world, I’d have plans a few days after Commencement to get on a train and go visit my mother – that also seems deeply inadvisable this year (and my mom understands that).

    But I feel worse for the students missing this than I feel for myself.

    (*In the spirit of “every weird rule has a weirder backstory,” I am told that in the years before I came here, there was a December commencement where so few faculty showed that it was a major embarrassment to the admin – and so now we’re “required” to attend. I’ve never tested it out; the one year I had to leave early as literally the only chance I’d get to see some of my relatives that year would be by doing so, I filled out the paperwork and got it approved….)Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I do think that the missing of commencement is a big deal. I quite enjoyed my commencement and the senior week or two that led up to it. The bonfire the night before (also traditional), etc. These ceremonies are part of what makes us human.

    The Very Online v. Not:

    The biggest problem with the Very Online is that the media reports on them because it is so cheap and easy. Going out and doing actual and comprehensive polling is expensive, tricky, difficult, and possibly unpleasant. I’m starting to think that a lot of Americans do not want to do tricky and unpleasant. Looking at a screen and taking selections from Team Quarantine or Team Reopen shooting wicked burns and memes at each other is easy and seemingly profitable.

    That being said, the polling seems to be on the side of Team Quarantine. I’m sympathetic to some of the arguments of Reopen. I don’t pretend that Quarantine is easy or pleasant. I worry that a lot of small businesses and/or non-profits will need to fold and never come back. I’m worried that the post-COVID world will be more boring and gray and dominated by big chains. That being said, I think the worry about the economy crowd does not have good answers for a lot of questions and chooses to ignore them instead. For example, the data seems to show that people stopped going out dramatically in early March. This would have been a death blow for many small businesses with official shut down or not. Cafes, restaurants, bars, retail, etc cannot survive with 20-30 percent reductions in business. Not shutting down might have made it worse because the restaurants and bars would be vector points for infection. The reopen crowd always sweeps this under the rug because it is inconvenient.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Whether you like commencement or not depends on what school you go to. SLACs and other small schools can put a lot more effort into making commencement into something of a meaningful ceremony than the big state schools with thousands of people to go through. Likewise, wealthy schools can get really good key note speakers that will put some effort into what they are doing rather than schools with a budget. If you go to school that needs to impersonalize commencement out of necessity, I’m guessing that it isn’t a big deal.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    What I think the fight over COVID-19 pandemic responses reveals is how hard it is for people to change their ideological priors even if they find the pandemic real.

    I know people who think the pandemic is real but the public health response goes so against their priors on the size and scope of what government can and should do that it causes pain.Report

  6. Avatar Marchmaine
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    says:

    HM1:
    Overheard… parents paying full freight ($68k) to send their kid to Yale only to have him sit in his room getting online Yale. It seems there’s a perceived discrepancy in value between Yale and Yale Online!(TM).

    Lived: We’re hosting an Irish Student who had no-where else to go after the schools abruptly shut down… he’s a senior and finishing up his thesis and defense and will be missing out on commencement; as this is the same (tiny) school where our daughter graduated last year… I think there’s something significant to capping your 4-yr journey with your thesis, defense and tiny commencement where the President of the college was also one of the Fellows/Professors. I’m a little sad for him.

    Whereas, completing my 3 1/2 yrs at Notre Dame was an exercise in counting credits and checked boxes for requirements; commencement was long, dull, and felt bureaucratic rather than ceremonial. Oh, and Bill Cosby gave the address.

    Pondered: If Colleges don’t re-open in the fall, is the online experience worth the premium… we’ve done community college before, might do it again just to rack-up credits/pre-reqs before heading back to a “finishing” school for the degree.Report

  7. Avatar InMD
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    says:

    I didn’t go to my undergrad commencement and have no regrets. There are literally thousands of people for UMD, so many that I don’t think you even walk across the stage. They did smaller ceremonies for majors but I didn’t know anyone and had kind of moved on from the experience mentally. I did go for law school but given that I was graduating at the nadir of the post 2008 legal market the experience was joyless and not nearly as ironic as it could’ve been.

    I’d say the best one was high school. I had a cigarette right in front of the principal who was constantly giving me detention for getting caught smoking. Felt like a real win.Report

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