The Common Good
June 2005

Pompous and Circumstantial

by Ed Spivey Jr. | June 2005

Our troubled world needs young people. And their iPods.

This month I'

This month I’ll join with thousands of proud fathers across the country in celebrating our children’s college graduation, a major milestone in a journey that will be marked by opportunities, challenges, and, hopefully, the ability to pay for their own food.

It will be an emotional event, one that my family has insisted must not be marred by me muttering "one down, one to go" as I sit in the audience. I’ll have enough on my mind anyway, because my feet will be soaking wet from slushy sidewalks typical of your picturesque upstate New York college towns in late May. Contrary to weather systems in other regions, these towns have only three seasons:

  • summer
  • winter
  • pneumonia

The proud grandparents will be there, as well as sundry relatives, including my wife’s in-laws, a rowdy bunch of Republicans with whom I’m often accused of turning every gathering into a political free-for-all. I deny this, just as the Bush administration denies its shameless gutting of environmental protections, a fact I’ll be sure to point out just before the "pomp" or slightly after the "circumstance."

Our daughter has worked hard for this moment, tackling her studies with an intensity that can only come from trying to get everything done before the spring formal. She wrote her papers, made the grades, and, with her new degree in French and International Relations, she’ll soon be ready to tackle any challenge the food service industry can throw at her.

Okay, that was a little harsh. Actually, she’s been offered a job in environmental advocacy, a position she accepted only because, she assured me, the jobs in the high-paying field of religious publishing were already taken. The good news is that, despite her modest salary, she’ll actually be in a higher tax bracket than, say, General Electric, a company that paid no taxes in three of the last four years. (Sorry. Just practicing for the relatives.)

I HAD HOPED to personally deliver this year’s commencement address, engaging the young graduates with inspirational examples from my own life that have, at a minimum, qualified me for prizes with names like Nobel, Pulitzer, and Publishers Clearinghouse. But the college declined my offer, choosing instead a person of "known academic accomplishment," which I took as a cheap shot at my associate of arts degree. (I was unjustly denied a bachelor’s by the archaic requirement that students actually attend class their senior year.) I thought I might still have a shot when I learned that a famous name is another qualification for commencement speakers. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough that my co-workers call me "Condoleezza."

THE ONE THING that could mar this joyful occasion is the moment when I present my daughter with the bill for her first 21 years. Right now, it comes to $314,742.92, although, being the loving and generous parent that I am, I’ll call it an even three hundred thou.

I hadn’t planned to ask for repayment, but money is a little tight now that the federal government has turned down my request to forgive her college loans. Apparently - and this may surprise some of you parents - federal loans must be repaid even if the graduate is smart and cute! I know, I know. This was a shock to me, too. (I even sent photos.) Apparently, a young person’s promise to go into the world with energy, enthusiasm, and a new set of luggage is not enough to inspire generosity from an ungrateful government. I suggested she change her name to Lockheed Martin and then just send a bill, since the government doesn’t think twice about paying those. But she decided against it after realizing she might eventually have to cooperate with congressional investigators. (She said she wants to focus on the "future, not the past.")

Be that as it may, our troubled world needs its young people, and this year’s graduates can be counted on to make it a better place. As long as they can do it by Instant Messenger. While listening to an iPod.

And it all begins at graduation, when the class of 2005 turns toward its teary-eyed parents (some with wet feet) and presents itself to the world. That emotional moment will culminate with the traditional toss of the mortar boards, giving parents a final glimpse of unexpectedly bizarre behavior that, for the last four years, we’ve just assumed they’ve indulged in every weekend. But that moment will be lost on me, since I intend to push my way through the crowd and catch my daughter’s cap before it hits the ground.

It’s a rental.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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