[disclaimer: The photos in this post are curtesy of cell phones and cameras of others, except the photo of Robyn walking — that one’s mine. My poor camera wasn’t up to the task.]
Saturday was my father’s 87th birthday. Saturday Robyn Stevens graduated from San Jose State University. These two events don’t seem to have much in common and have little significance outside my narrow part of the world.
My father was a college professor who did his share of “graduation duty.”
Robyn Stevens is a champion racewalker whose life is bookworthy.
The significance is, I was unable to call up my father and tell him about the graduation I went to. He left us, back in November, before he had a chance to celebrate his 87th birthday.
So I found myself in San Jose, California attending the second graduation I’ve ever been to. The other one was my own, for my Bachelor’s degree.
The main ceremony was in the stadium. The graduates walked in and sat with their colleges. Family and friends went wild and snapped pictures as if their kids were the star players on the field. The graduates yakked on cell phones and broke rank to pose for pictures for various people in the stands.
The arts students decorated their mortar-and-tassels with piano keyboards and palettes, several wore old fashion basketball shoes and jeans. Some things never change. I was one of those arts students over thirty years ago and I recall wearing jeans under my gown. I can’t remember what I had on my feet but I do know I owned a pair of black white-toed basketball shoes.
After the national anthem everyone remained standing as if collectively programmed to wait for the first point to be scored. The professor in charge of the microphone had to instruct us to sit down.
During the introductions of honored professors and students, the grads kept themselves entertained by bouncing around beach balls, throwing paper airplanes and disks, breaking out into impromptu waves.
A couple of the speakers mentioned that the graduates wouldn’t remember a word they said or even remember much of the day. The keynote speaker, Omid Kordestani, a SJSU grad and the senior vice president of Global Sales and Business Development at Google, went as far as to say they wouldn’t remember anything they learned in college. While this is true, it ruins the fun of learning all about the joys of disillusionment themselves as they blindly grope their way through life.
As each college was asked to stand and receive the great academic blessing of a degree, the grads did so in character of their majors. The engineering students threw paper airplanes and strange littles disks that didn’t fly very well. The applied sciences students kept doing a wave and a half dozen did a pagan dance around the larger group. The theatre and film students stood on their chairs and cheered.
The audience shot streamers and held up signs, snapped pictures and yelled and screamed and confetti wafted down onto one wing of the stadium. I kept looking at the scoreboard to see who was winning.
For a final act of academic tradition we all got to butcher, uh, sing the school song, which they had been kind enough to print on the back of the program.
The morning had started overcast and cool and by the middle of the ceremony it was sunny and hot without a cloud in the sky. Welcome to the Bay Area.
We spent a few hours eating lunch with the graduate and hanging around downtown San Jose. I’ve never been to San Jose before and it has a nice downtown. The campus is snuggled right up against it, like PSU in Portland, Oregon. The downtown is a bit Portlandish with its walk-friendly streets and trolleys. 1st street is a long street with a trolley and lined on both sides with trees. Very nice street. If I’d had my camera I would have taken some pictures of it. This will have to do — stolen from somewhere on the Internet . . .
The second ceremony was at the San Jose Museum of Art. Yes, a second more intimate ceremony for just the art students.
It was chaotic because all the families wanted the best seats and saved whole rows up front, the sound system was lousy so no one could hear what was going on, planes landing at San Jose Airport were so low they seemed to skirt the top of the buildings and, of course, drowned out the speakers, the art professors were laid back in their presentations, some kind of non-stop tribal drumming was coming from a few blocks away, the sun beat down and reflected nicely off all the light stone . . . my solar oven would have worked beautifully there.
Once that was over, they had a reception in the museum, where they tried to stuff several hundred people into one of the small gallery rooms where they put the food. We staked out a claim in an alcove in the lobby area and unwound a bit before going our separate ways. All in all a nice way to spend a Saturday in spring.
Congratulations to Robyn for making it through this rite of passage.
I had only one poignant moment. The song “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor played in the restaurant. There are some songs that put me in another time and place, always with a sad nostalgia. “Fire and Rain” is one of those songs. At that particular moment it helped me find some peace as nostalgia collided with the present reality.
“oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again”