Beyond the Threshold
If Cornell is any example, Ivy League graduations are impressive with pageantry. But more than that, all this beauty, color and tradition is reinforcing the importance and significance of the threshold the degree candidates are crossing.
One week my nephew Ted was living in his campus apartment, working hard on projects with his animal science cohorts, the next he’s driving cross-country, returning home to the west, his friends scattering to Massachusetts, Tennessee and beyond.
We and his parents arrived in Ithaca for graduation. His mom was surprised that Ted had not begun to pack, given an expected exit time of 6 a.m. the day after the big event. “I didn’t want to, because that will mean it’s all over,” he explained quietly.
Rooms had been reserved a year in advance for this special weekend. Ithaca, N.Y., is a small town and places to stay are limited. Yet the stadium was filled with family and other well-wishers sharing this special day with the graduates. For a full hour the academic processional marched into the stadium filling most of the 6,400 seats precisely arranged on the field. (We counted them while we waited during the previous hour, sitting in the sun on hard bleachers.)
Carnelian red robes and multicolored hoods of the faculty and doctoral candidates give the impression at a distance of the wings of exotic tropical birds. Their brilliant satin collage contrasts with the black gowns and caps of the bachelor’s degree recipients. There are banners for each school as well as symbolic emblems held aloft. The effect is massive and stunning. The orchestra and chorus bring elegance and emotion, particularly with the ending rendition of the school’s alma mater.
It’s not all totally controllable, however. There are more than hints of the individuality and the personal lives of the graduates. Below the hems of the gowns, we see footwear ranging from flip-flops to fancy. One graduating couple wheels a baby in a stroller. The veterinary science group displayed 50 or more inflated full arm livestock exam gloves, using them to express reactions to speeches and introductions. These white plastic balloon hands and arms were clapping and waving throughout the ceremony.
University President David Skorton talks of the hopes and contributions of this graduating generation, a generation he says will be dedicated to community service and outreach. He tells of such projects members of this class have already begun.
“Go out there and do something remarkable. Help others realize their dreams. We believe in you,” Skorton concludes. This was much more than the usual, “You can realize your dreams” speech. This is a message of confidence and an expectation of participation in community life, the life of the nation and the world.
What comes beyond the threshold seems less daunting, more like a welcoming challenge, a transition from learning to service.
After I photograph Ted in his cap and gown standing in front of the Cornell tower, he says with determination, “I’m going back to the apartment to pack. It’s time.”
Landscape architect and aunt Ann Christoph is a former council member.