I’ve attended the last five convocations. I’ve gone alone, sat alone amongst the thousands of families and their newly minted freshmen. The beginning. I’ve listened to the speeches and marvelled at the robes en regalia. The first time I went I pictured myself sitting in the crowd with my daughter at some future end of August day. “Look around Valkyrie, you are part of something. You are at the beginning of a wonderful experience” I imagined myself saying to her. At one of those events the Director of Admissions told the incoming class that the oldest among them was 72, the youngest 13. The crowd exploded with applause!
I’ve attended these last five years because I found myself, after 30 years or so of semester start-ups, wishing the summer could be extended another month or two. I hadn’t yet fully recharged. Dare I say dreaded the return?
After that first convocation five years ago, my first since my own freshman year of ’71, I walked out, dare I say, inspired? I will say it. I was inspired. I was part of something.
When convocation came this past August 26, I looked forward to being amongst the thousands, but not alone. My daughter would be next to me and together we would be part of something.
At the last minute Valkyrie could not attend, and once again I sat alone among the ten thousand. I cried that day. Let me tell you why.
Parents and students streamed in, expectation and hope. The band played. Long gowns and big colorful hats processed onto the floor. The new President made her entrance. She was a freshman as well.
No one sat in protest during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. There were no raised arms with clenched fists of time past. Hats were removed, hands crossed hearts.
The Provost in his sonorous voice invoked Emerson, educated men of letters joined in that moment.
The President of the Student Body briefly stumbled in his prepared speech to parents and peers, momentarily losing his place. He apologized, saying “please bear with me, I’ve never spoken in front of ten thousand people.” He received a thunderous ovation of support. He became part of something.
The President was handed a gift from someone named Irene, and she shared it with the students declaring “classes are cancelled on Monday.”
The band sang a beautiful rendtion of the Alma Mater, and then the crowd took their turn with the song.
They say convocation is for students, but I think it’s for parents. All that we have done to get to this embarkation comes vividly home to us in the traditions, and the songs, and the memories of a time when we, too, were freshmen. I was not alone with my tears of joy. I was part of something.