I promised my sons I would not write about them again; the last time
I wrote about graduation one of them didn't talk to me for over a year as he reminded me that he had indeed graduated even if I hadn't attended the ceremony. (If a tree falls in the forest etc.)
But earlier this week, four years after his intended graduation date, the last remaining holdout got to don his purple robes. He didn't get to procession since there were about 20, 000 other grads--we are talking the largest graduation ceremonies of any private university in the nation, those of New York University, this year held at Yankee Stadium, just before it goes under the wrecking ball.
Washington Square is under renovation; this is the first and only commencement to be held in this stadium. So very very cool.
My father was born near the Stadium and our family is RABID Yankee fans despite the crazy Steinbrenner family, the overpaid players, the dysfunctional farm system. When you grew up memorizing the rosters at the same time as the cabinet in the Kennedy administration and could recite either backwards, there is no way of not continuing to hold them high in the pantheon so there was a kind of rounding the bases and coming home theme to the day for us.
You would think that we couldn't made a dent in Yankee Stadium, right? Well let me just say that all of the purply robed grads (graduate and undergraduate) sat at the field level and that until they opened the upper decks, there were well too many parents and celebrants to fit in the upper field behind.
Just taking the subway up to the stadium one began to get a sense of the overwhelming numbers; when was the last time you were on a train and everyone was wearing purple? It was like being with a lot of Barneys.
Plus I forgot the tickets, and didn't realize that until we got to the stadium. It turned out that they were prepared for that eventuality of stupid or forgetful parents and handed us a replacement set. And after we picked up our purple caps and programs, we snaked our way through a sea of grads and parents, it took almost a half hour just to cross the field from right field (where the Gallatin School was sitting), to left field (where the Tisch School was sitting).
The stadium looks so great, you're head-scratching the decision to get rid of it. They've let the infrastructure go--the corridors and bathrooms and food facilities are not state of the art because they knew the new stadium was coming. The giant pretzels are soggy and stale, the event staff rowdy and more disruptive than the people they are supposed to be minding, the security guards overzealous. But as a sturdy piece of dreams, it's still looking more than correct--fabulous even--and it seems incredible that they are going to tear the mother ship down.
Just behind you can see them busily at work on the newer version of the stadium. It's eerie, like a pod stadium hatched in the trunk--they are replicating it, trying to make us feel as if it's the same down to the color, the coliseum motif, etc but we know there's just something off and are wary.
NYU didn't have a speaker per se, but many speakers as well as soon-to-be professional singers from their conservatory type Tisch school who belted out a medley about New York and sang a killer national anthem.
Finally though, the patience of Job and Jobette wore thin, a few beach balls appeared and the kids began the Wave as the president was speaking--it was actually fantastic to see a PURPLE WAVE under such seemingly august circumstances. And then a restless acting student tore out onto the field and was able to round the bases to home plate before they caught up with him and tackled the poor kid....who had roused the slumbering NYPD which then unfurled onto the field a hundred strong....it was a scary, police state-y moment, inappropriate and unexpected for the mostly docile crowd of well wishers.
I felt so free when he was out there, it was exciting and for a moment, very sixties and a little counter-cultural in a time when that phrase has almost entirely disappeared from our lexicon.
There was a time, my time, when the cocktail of cops and students was not a good mix and all over the world students--in 1968 and thenceforward--came to look upon New York's finest as the enemy. I don't think most kids feel that way now. After 9/11, especially at NYU where some of the dorms were next to the WTC, cops are looked upon more or less benevolent beings who actually might help you out if you got into trouble in lower Manhattan.
But if you listened to the speakers and honorary degree recipients everyone from Michael Strahan to Michael J Fox then you could get a sense of the quietude, the unrowdyness of most of today's kids.
What could they be protesting? The war is raging on, but it hasn't affected this bunch. I saw a recruiter all decked out and thought to myself, does he think he will be able to cherry pick some enlistment today?
Could there have been something about global warming, a topic almost everyone except seems to agree on? That effort has aroused ardor but not armor.....
NYU is very like a public university in its diversity. It's expensive, so it's not drawing from precisely the same applicant pool, but there are lots of scholarships and with the graduate students present (you're walking by the doctors and lawyers thinking, oh my God, do I have to wait all those years or why can't I have one of those already?)
But you're also thinking: this is the worse job market in years. The economy has stalled out: what are all these talented kids going to do...and will it have anything to do with what they have studied? Wall Street has rescinded many offers--fields like nursing and food service are apparently the only sure bets left.
NYU has a school of nursing, so I'm happy for them. But what about the filmmakers, comp lit PHDs, and psychology majors?
As some readers may remember, I didn't even attend my own graduation. But friends have started to remind me that the times when my children and my mother will be taking the subway together and sharing a family moment are to be counted on one hand and so I have started to insist on family solidarity even when it means facing down an endless line of caps and gowns coming in the other direction and blocking your way.
Here's to all graduates of '08. Better late than never, better now than in a year when the job market may even be worse, better with many generations present to cheer you on.
When the graduates had finally been "admitted" by the president, one father shouted out, "You're welcome" which caused a wry titter of identification amongst the parents sitting around him. Youth is wasted on the young, college on the over-educated, etc.
But none of us would have rather been anywhere else in the world.
Go grads and Go Yanks too!