Graduation

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By Hardy Jackson

It is graduation season.

Colleges. High schools. Grade schools. Even kindergartens bring families together to celebrate.

Only not this year.

Of all the things the pandemic has changed, for many what replaces the traditional graduation gathering may leave the most lasting memory.

Over the years, I have attended a host of graduations.

There was a comfortable sameness to them all.

Proud graduates.

Proud families of graduates.

Long-winded speakers.

Long-winded speakers?

Once upon a time, I struck a blow against that one.

When an invited speaker had to cancel, the president of the university where I taught asked me to fill in out of desperation.

He was my boss. Sure, be happy to.

As I pondered what I might say to inspire the graduates, a bit of verse came to mind.

“They gave him twenty minutes

And he finished up in ten.

Now there’s a splendid speaker

And a prince among men.”

“His diction wasn’t such-a-much.

He hemmed and hawed a bit.

Some say he spoke a lot of sense.

But best of all, he quit.”

With that example to follow, I stood up, spoke and sat down, all in less than 10 minutes.

Everyone loved it.

Then the celebration began.

Where once graduations were dignified ceremonies, over the years they became an excuse for all sorts of raucous behavior.

Not from the graduates, who smiled and waved when they get their diplomas, but from their families.

In the half-century that I attended graduations, I have seen and heard everything from air horns blown when the graduate crosses the stage, to airplanes pulling banners with the name of the graduate there for all to see. I have heard yelling like you hear at a football game, and coordinated family chants which likely embarrassed the graduate.

This year, my Baby Girl graduates from Samford University.

Samford, as you might know, is a Baptist institution.

And we all know that Baptists can get a little rowdy.

However, this year, what rowdiness occurs will take place in small groups, in living rooms or back yards, attendees socially distancing while some sort of ceremony is streamed via the Internet.

Baby Girl, brought up on social media, does not seem to be upset by this. Truth is, she and her friends appear ready to get it over and move on with life in a world that is changing every day.

What I also suspect is that they are relieved that they do not have to sit through a graduation speech.

“And when the speaker stopped and sat,

We cheered and cheered again.

For they gave him twenty minutes,

And he finished up in ten.”

This year, when the virtual graduation ends, instead of filing out to “Pomp and Circumstance,” perhaps the graduates should consider what the Rolling Stones sang in  “You can’t always get what you want.”

“But if you try sometime you just might find,

You get what you need.”

With a good education under their belts, they have what they need to make things better for themselves and us all.

And if I were a graduation speaker today, what wisdom would I I bestow on the Class of 2020?

I’d tell them to remember the Boy Scott motto: and “Be Prepared.”

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University.  He can be reached at hhjackson43@gmail.com.

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