George Pyle: Graduates, be ready to cash in on your missed commencement

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Graduates, Nick Gruet and Kennidy Howard pose for a photo at Presidents Circle at the University of Utah, Thursday April 30, 2020

People of a certain age, it is said, are often able to remember in great detail something that happened in their lives 40 or 50 years before but have a hard time recalling what they had for breakfast that morning.

French toast.

But who spoke at my high school commencement ceremony? Or what might have been special about my college graduation event? Nope, sorry, drawing a couple of big blanks here.

I remember a little about the commencement at my high school the year I was a sophomore, which I attended only because I was in the band and we were there to play the National Anthem and, I suppose, “Pomp and Circumstance.”

But even that, I think, was memorable mostly because it was the last time I played a musical instrument. (I hated being in marching band.) And because when everyone there was supposed to sing, a cappella, “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” the drum section started belting out the lyrics to “God Save the Queen” — the tune is identical — and the rest of us in the band joined in.

In my circle, that was about as subversive as we got.

Oh, yes. I think I remember that my graduating class was the first in school history that was not compelled to attend a religious service the night before. Or maybe I just didn’t go.

All that is an old duff’s way of encouraging those who are graduating from high school or college this month or next to not feel so bad about missing a traditional commencement ceremony. Because, in the long view of things, it ain’t that much.

Sorry. We just didn’t want any of you to get sick and die. Commencement means beginning, and if we crowd all of you into a gym, or even a football field, it might well be the end for a lot of you. Or for your grandparents.

It might be different if you are one of those for whom the completion of your high school or college requirements was a steep climb, if you had to drop out and go back, if you were working to support yourself or your family all along or, particularly, if you are the first in your family to reach that level of formal education.

If that’s you, then, yes, not getting to have a real commencement, a real walk across the stage, a chance to move your tassel from one side to the other and toss your caps in the air, is a genuine loss.

But, as your commencement speaker might have said, take the long view.

If you did have a traditional commencement and if, 30, 20, even 10 years from now, you remember very much about it, it would probably mean that very little had happened to you in the meantime. And that would be just too Uncle Rico pathetic for words.

Also, compared to the class of, say, 1942, when many of the students missed the ceremonies because they were getting ready to storm the beaches of Guadalcanal, there isn’t actually that much to complain about.

Though, speaking of which, there is a way to make some hay out of this.

One of the great perks of being old, or even kind of old, is the ability to sort of reverse whine about how good the younger generation has it and how they don’t appreciate it.

So, mark this down. If you are one of those who has been denied a proper commencement ceremony in 2020, be patient. Come about, oh, 2085 or so, you will have a story to tell someone about how rough you had it as a young person.

It’s not the same as having joined the Marines in the middle of a war. Still, more interesting to you, and to them, than having marched in in two straight lines.

“You think you have it rough? Why, in my day we didn’t even get to have a real graduation. We had to stay home and watch it on a screen.”

Unless, of course, that’s the way all commencement ceremonies are in the future.

(Maybe the only Monty Python sketch with a punch line. Come to find out it isn’t really a Python sketch at all. Written for “At Last the 1948 Show” in 1967.)

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, does have fond memories of many of his high school and college teachers. He hopes they had stellar memories of him.


Twitter, @debatestate

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