Monday, May 18, 2009

Not Biden Our Time

I'm coming out of thinly veiled anonymity to say that Vice President Joe Biden was our Commencement Speaker this year. And that it was my first commencement at Selva Oscura U., and I went only to cheer the MA student whose thesis I was honored to supervise. But I was surprisingly charmed by the experience.

I normally find such pomp and circumstance tiresome, full of dull people taking themselves far too seriously (my boisterous and ridiculously over-the-top graduation from Crunchy Chocolate U being the major exception). But today was different. My colleagues and I poked fun at how much this pageantry felt like a "Renaissance Faire". There I was in my Quill & Stylus regalia, looking like an early modern scholar (or girl dressed as boy scholar) and I nearly launched into "The quality of mercy is not strained" as we trudged across the quad to the accompaniment of a brass ensemble playing 16th century tunes. But we had fun doing it, despite having dragged ourselves out of bed at an uncouth hour. And some small part of me, (the part that wanted to be Queen Elizabeth I at ten and a Shakespearean actress at fourteen) was secretly delighted.

Biden did not eschew political rhetoric. He called on our students to enact change. And he cited the "terrible beauty" in Yeats' "Easter 1916" to suggest that change is inevitable for us. And, probably because I was sitting about 5 feet away staring at him, he smiled at me. Twice. Swoon! (Confession: okay, so if it had been Rahm Emanuel, I probably would have clutched my colleagues and screamed like a teenager in 1963. He is one hot, foul-mouthed Jewish politician.).

That said, a little less than one third into the awarding of the undergraduate degrees (and yes, all 1000 of them marched up one by one and shook the presidents hand, and yes it did take FOREVER), I decided that one full commencement ceremony was plenty for the next three to ten years.

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