Cable-access commencement: Snore no more!


So I’m flipping channels at my sister’s house last night, after I helped move her TV across the room. Since I don’t have cable TV at home — which is a good thing, more or less — whenever I can watch it at someone else’s home, it’s always a slightly foreign experience.

(This probably deserves its own post, because there’s this whole mini culture war going on surrounding TV that I find fascinating… you have, as Christian Lander observes, a lot of people who love not having a TV, trying to spread the gospel of turn-off-the-TV-once-in-awhile-it-rots-yer-brains, while plenty of others find so much meaning and personal significance in the television they watch — or at least love cracking wise about it.)

Anyway, I watched the last ten minutes of a “Becker” episode … which was the first time I had ever watched “Becker” … pretty standard sitcommy stuff. Just enough to realize that I wasn’t missing much.

Some interesting commercials… including a mildly patronizing commercial about how men should ostensibly be rewarded with Klondike bars for not being insensitive oafs. I’m calling it mildly patronizing now, but I must admit… I did laugh. (This one is also amusing.)

But the thing that held my attention the longest was a local public cable broadcast of the Cleveland High School commencement ceremony.

It had the look of a the typical high school graduation exercise. Flowing robes, academic regalia, flash bulbs popping, and a range of facial expressions adorning the graduates, from beaming smiles to awkward grimaces.

But the sound of this particular ceremony was different. Because whichever school administrator had been tabbed to announce the names had clearly not gotten the memo.

Which memo?

You know, the one that gets circulated every year around this time, where cautious parents and school officials attempt to prevent overzealous family members from going over the top in celebrating their loved one’s achievement. It may be in the form of a letter going out to parents, or it could be in the form of an editorial by a local columnist (such as this blog post from Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune).

I find that what underlines much of this sentiment are the underlying assumptions that graduations have traditionally been solemn affairs and that anything that people do to pierce the air of gravitas is disrespectful and causes the event to take much longer than it should.

This strikes me as being a cultural issue. I don’t just mean of ethnic culture, but of the shifting priorities and values that are taking place in our broader popular American culture. People now (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘people under 35’) are fluent in the language of spectacle. The rise of user-generated content on the internet means that high school graduates now live under the assumption that anything good that they do can and should be an excuse to draw attention to themselves, to celebrate it, and enjoy their three minutes of fame. (Because fifteen minutes is so last century.)

Which is why I was so enthralled by watching this ceremony, because the announcer was pronouncing the graduates’ names with as much gusto as possible. I mean seriously… this guy was way into it. Move over, Ben Stein; hello Ray Clay.

Janeeeeeeeeane Krystooowiak! Larry! D! Jaaaaaaamison!! Eugeeeeeeeeeene Hoooperrrrrrrr!

And so on.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now obviously part of it was the camp factor of it all, especially because some of the students were really getting into it. You could see a little pep in their step. And it made the resulting cheering and hollering — you did it, mookie, yeahhh!!! — feel a little more natural and less out of place.

Other students just walked across, all stoic-like. For some of these kids, it was probably the first time in their life hearing their names read aloud over the public address system. So I can understand if they felt a little shy and awkward about the whole thing. I imagine it might feel a little disjointed for that reason… but I also bet they enjoyed it deep down, even if they didn’t have the stage presence of some of their more charismatic schoolmates.

Of course, I only watched it for five minutes before I was ready to flip to something else. I might feel differently if I would’ve had to sit through the whole thing.

I am, however, reminded of the timeless, often-quoted passage in the third chapter Ecclesiastes (no pun intended… no really) that describes all the different activities under the sun for which there is an appointed time.

The thing is, though, is that the writer of Ecclesiastes (presumably Solomon) never really tells us when those times are. So it’s up to people to use their own discernment — and, if they’re believers in Christ, the leading of the Holy Spirit — to figure out when it’s okay to laugh and shout and dance and when it’s better to just stand there and savor the moment in dignified silence.

Kudos to the Cleveland H.S. staff for realizing that those times can change.

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