The symbolism of Commencement is misleading

by John Strayer | 6/9/96 5:00am

One part of this whole graduation deal strikes me as particularly ironic. As we receive our diplomas they call our names and (at least in theory) each of us is honored separately, as an individual, alone.

Symbolically, this ceremony is supposed to be the culmination of college. And yet, when have I been alone at college?

Of course this is not the only way the symbolism of graduation goes wrong. The most obvious example is the fact that the only achievements recognized are of the academic variety.

This totally ignores the fact that a majority of our collective time has been spent in the pursuit of non-academic goals. And I don't just mean the sort of goal we are after when we send a drunken "come over" blitz. There are all sorts of Dartmouth success stories that will not be recognized with even a single laude.

During graduation we gaze upon Baker Tower, and yet how many of us have done our best work there? My best work was done not on the right in the academic buildings of Dartmouth row, but rather on the left in Collis, Robinson and Parkhurst. This partially explains the lack of asterisks after my name.

Perhaps my biggest success is walking out of here with some good friends -- pretty remarkable, considering. Real friends can be hard to come by at this place that often resembles junior high. Those friends are even harder to keep.

And so graduation celebrates only a small portion of our busy Dartmouth careers. But while the whole thing is maybe a farce, it's still that one detail -- we're up there alone -- that really bugs me.

It's time to make (one last) important distinction. There's a difference between being alone and being lonely. By being alone I mean being by yourself, whereas it's quite possible to be lonely in a crowd. At Dartmouth I've been plenty lonely, but rarely alone.

A big part of all this "Dartmouth Experience" nonsense is the huge amount of time we spend together. Those times have warped our lives in a uniquely Dartmouth fashion.

When you've been getting screwed over in the Registrar's office, were you ever alone? And all this year, there have always been seniors close by to discuss all the anxieties related with leaving this place.

But really some of the most memorable togetherness was when large masses of us got together to act stupid. Whether it was running around the Homecoming Bonfire or running around a keg, we've done it with each other (I hope you weren't running around a keg alone, that's sick).

Part of what connects us to the future of Dartmouth and every class that follows, is that they will be doing similar things in the same places.

They will be peacefully waiting in line for a beer at Sigma Delt, only to find themselves accosted by a sister, "I'm sorry, no smoking, house rules."

It will be the same place, connected to us, and yet different. Who knows, maybe the men working tap will be members of the newly co-ed Sigma Delt. Still won't be able to smoke (not everything can change for the better).

So maybe it's all that damned togetherness that explains the wretched feeling I've had every morning of Senior Week. Oh sure, some of it comes from my night-time behavior, but that doesn't explain it all.

As the underclassmen have trickled off it's been a never ending series of good-byes culminating with the one big good-bye to all these faces that have populated my life. It may look like a big party, but a lot of it is not fun at all.

Think about who you saw everyday of your life before college: your family. In four short, intense years we have filled that void with each other.

It really hasn't been that different than my family, with hair-pulling, name-calling and a little downright cruelty. And as in my family, we love each other anyway. Just like a family it is our best -- and our worst -- traits which we all have in common.

So if you're reading this right now it means you are probably bored out of your head listening to all the names. Don't feel guilty about ignoring that part; hey, I'm probably asleep. But also, that endless litany of names really isn't a good representation of what it's been all about. It's those names together. I know it's been greater than the sum of its parts; I just hope I feel that way soon.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!