The night before graduation was probably the most literary evening I’ve ever experienced. There was the mundanaeity of it all, the absurdity of having no idea what to say to people you had spent for years of your life with, mostly because you had, you know, spent four years of your life with them and literally had nothing left to say. Then there was the emotional tension, the raw fear, hope, anger, frustration, excitement, joy, sadness, and beauty that inhabited our very movement.
There’s something absurd about being a college graduate right now. We’re at this pivotal moment in the history of the U.S. and the history of humanity really. It’s like being at the start of an adventure novel. The tension of a journey about to begin was everpresent. And then, to top it off, it began to thunderstorm and rain, hard. It had all of the makings of a classic childhood event. There’s something about heavy rains that just scream childhood to me. And this one had it. Standing out in the heavy rain, watching as lighting flashed across the clouds in the sky, trembling against the cold of the rain as the thunder rolled past, chatting quietly, contemplating life with a close friend. It had all the cliched makings of an ending and a beginning.
Because, what’s interesting, you see, is I have a massive conceit problem. I’m something of an attention hog. I want, love, perhaps even need, attention. I even applied to be a commencement speaker for that reason, I just love adoration of “the masses”. It’s silly and superficial, I know, and I really hate it about myself, but there it is none-the-less. When I told my friends I would love to be a 30 under 30, they scowled. Which is fair.
But what’s interesting about a graduation, is that it shares a unique trait with another, more solemn tradition, a memorial. Graduations and memorials are the only two times (that I can think) where lists of names are ceremonially read out loud, one after the other, in ceaseless succession. What’s interesting about these times is that they both are preceded by endings: a graduation follows the end of an education, and a memorial often follows the end of lives. But what’s interesting about both is that the names are read in succession, without any title or attribution. The names are not important individually, regardless of the weight of their unique contributions. Rather, the names are given recognition collectively, for the community they represent.
So in a much appreciated “screw you” to my ego, I think graduation is beautiful because I was recognized, we were recognized, not for being individuals, but for being a part of a diverse collective. The tension in that moment the week(s) leading up to this day were not individual, though the emotions might have been, rather they were collective. We would not have gotten here without each other.
So I am special, as Stuart John Urback, Carleton College Class of 2013. But I am special not for being Stuart John Urback, but for being Carleton College Class of 2013, a unique representative of an incredible community.