THE SOUNDS OF GRADUATION
|One woman's thoughts on becoming an
by Kate Bertine '97
I think I am supposed to be paying
attention to Governor Whitman's commencement address, but
I just can't concentrate. I have my mind on other things.
Like that little piece of lint on the graduation robe of
the person in front of me. Should I alert him to the
presence of this rebellious fuzz? And what about the
tassel dangling from the cap of the woman next to me?
Should I tell her, or casually reach out and flip it over
to the right side? And then there is the ultimate
paranoia: Receiving the diploma. It is hard to listen to
the speech when salute with the right, shake with the
right, grab diploma with the left . . . salute, shake,
take, salute, shake, take . . . is the only thought
running through my mind. What if I blank at the last
minute? I guess I could just give President Grabois a
high five and ask him to mail the diploma home.
Graduation is not as easy as it looks.
|I am graduating. I knew this was going to
happen. I just didn't realize it would be today, or that
today would come so quickly. Has it been four years
already? There is still so much I haven't learned. I
never camped out on the ski hill. I should have taken a
poli sci class. I still have trouble opening my mailbox.
Within a matter of minutes I am going to be an alumna. Within a matter of hours somebody from Campaign Colgate will be calling me for a contribution. My friends keep talking about this real world place that we have to move to. What will it be like there? If I don't like it, can I go back to the fake one? Will there be friends like I've found at Colgate? Will there be mentors to guide me? How many
J. Crew catalogs will plague my daily mail delivery? I've heard this world is different from Colgate. I wonder if there will be real sun there. In this sea of chairs, I am sitting still, but my mind is racing everywhere.
In a few years, I probably won't remember what Zoe or Matt said. Their stories will have faded, their powerful sentences will have slipped from my memory, and I will remember only one sound from that luncheon. Laughter. Our roars of laughter inflated the tent and, for a couple of hours, it erased the tension of graduation, the real world, and the rain that seemed to be coming down on us all too fast that day.
|While I sit on this hard-back folding chair, I've
noticed something other than the misplaced tassels and
cockeyed mortar boards. It is so quiet, almost like an
outdoor library with shelves of graduates. This is the
most silent it has been all weekend. It certainly wasn't
like this on Friday at the Senior Luncheon. We were
almost deafened by the rain, wind and heaving tent, and
everyone was a little nervous. I was hoping they would
pass out the diplomas right then and there, so we could
at least be graduates before the lightning
hit. But we soon ignored the crazy, noisy weather, and
listened to the advice of two powerful speakers.
Zoe Friedman '89, who works for David Letterman, delivered the Senior Luncheon address, complete with a Top Ten list of steps for us to follow upon graduating from college. We paid close attention. Her spirit, spontaneity and jokes had everyone rolling in the aisles by the end of the speech.
After Zoe, I listened to the words of my classmate Matt Gahr, who was elected to be the peer speaker of the senior class. His words, a mixture of ripe humor and gentle sentimentality, moved me. His speech reflected the joys of our collegiate experience, as Matt embarked on a verbal quest to answer the multifaceted question, Why do I love Colgate? At the end of the luncheon, I looked around at all the tables of seniors. The sentimental were crying, the humorous were laughing, and the nostalgic were already reminiscing over the beautiful words they had just heard.
|I noticed another sound of graduation, later that
night after the luncheon. It startled me as I was walking
up the hill on the way to the Torchlight Procession. It
was quiet and dark, and the gentle shuffle of relatives
with video cameras began to echo over the campus. All of
a sudden, there was a booming clang. It was the chapel
bell. I didn't know the chapel had a bell. It stopped me
in my tracks, and I paused for a moment to listen to its
rhythmic tintinnabulation. (That is a big word for
ringing. I have always wanted to use it, but never had
the chance!) The vibration of each toll announced to me,
with wordless clarity, that graduation was finally here.
The bell also told me that I was late, so I sprinted the
rest of the way up the Persson Hall steps.
When I got
to the quad, there was a new sound. Fire. It snapped and
cracked with the same energy that seemed to be
invigorating all of the seniors. There was an aura of
electric excitement on that academic green unlike
anything I had felt before. The last time all of us had
been on that quad together was four years ago, when we
first trudged up the hill for the Convocation ceremony.
It rained that day, too. We were led by Konosioni members
carrying wilted, flameless torches.
|I am sure that Torchlight must look beautiful to the
spectators, but, like graduation, this procession is
tougher than it appears. First, we run around in the
dark, trying to find our friends, and then in the midst
of all this excited hysteria, we are handed a large twig
with a fireball perched on top. Leisurely instructed not
to ignite any trees or classmates, we are led down the
very hill that, for the past four years, seems we have
only climbed up. This peculiar gravity shift compels us
to run, but those in front of us keep stopping to wave at
parents and cameras. Flashbulbs blind us. With all the
excitement, some students begin to confuse
vertical with horizontal and the
torches become accidental jousting spears. And it is hot.
Black robes and tall flames are quite a combination, and
coupled with the fact that we have not been accustomed to
warm weather for quite some time, we are re-introduced to
the term swelter. Most onlookers believe that
the 668 seniors marching down the hill were smiling
because they were about to graduate. The truth is, after
a long, non-spring season in a cold and cloudy Hamilton,
we were smiling because we finally got to carry our own
personal sticks of sunshine.
|In between my sporadic thoughts on life and diploma
receiving, I managed to catch a few words of the
commencement address. I remember Governor Whitman telling
us to listen to our instincts when we get out into the
real world. She called our instincts and impulses a moral
The woman to my right, Shana, is engaged to be married. The man on my left, whom I did not recognize, introduced himself to me. Chris had been a member of the Class of '89 and then joined the Coast Guard. He came back to Colgate this semester, after eight years, to finally receive his degree. Behind me, my friend Geoff is leaving for a job interview after the ceremony. Jay, my crew teammate sitting one row up, is headed off to grad school in the fall. We are sitting within five feet of one another, though in a matter of hours our compasses will lead us far away from Colgate. Someday, I have no doubt, we'll be led back.
|From where I am sitting, amongst my fellow graduates
on the banks of Taylor Lake, I have a view of Colgate
that I have not seen before. In front of me is a palette
of vibrant colors that visually announce their presence
among the black and white robes of all of the graduates.
A bold green lawn, a rare blue sky, an attention-deprived
yellow sun are screaming their brilliance. The stage is
draped in Colgate maroon. On it and before it sit a
colorfully-gowned assortment of smiling professors, like
an entourage of scholarly Skittles. This rainbowed
silence is one of the loudest, most beautiful sounds of
Kate Bertine '97
|From my chair, I can see the old window in my
freshman dorm room up on the hill. It looks a little
different since its face lift, though. I lived in the
notorious KED; a concrete hamster cage-like bunker that
used to slouch self-consciously into the backdrop of the
hill. Now the ugly duckling dorm has completed
metamorphosis, and the swan-like structure of Curtiss
Hall stands proudly among its neighboring edifices. I can
see Drake Hall, Persson Hall and DKE chapel, all of which
have been razed or rolled to new standings on campus
during the past four years.
So much has changed since I've been at Colgate.
I glance quickly around the lower campus for a moment. Adam and Eve are paddling around with mellow swan nonchalance. There is a campus safety officer lingering in the background. A storm cloud hovers overhead. I am amongst friends.
Nothing has changed since I've been at Colgate.
They are about to begin handing out the diplomas now. I'm in the B section, so here goes. I'll be right back.
I didn't trip. I remembered to salute at the last minute. The name on the diploma belongs to me. In fact, it is the only thing I can read. I recognize the Colgate seal, though I cannot translate any of these squiggley Latin letters surrounding it. But I can read between the lines of all the foreign characters. It says, I'm ready.
Kate Bertine is vice president of the first Colgate class to graduate more women than men.