Graduation Ceremonies – Why I Didn’t Attend My Own

Graduation Snippet #1: Funny how today, when I went to Brock Hall to pick up my diploma, I couldn’t find the mouthful to say that word, even though it was right in front of my eyes (on the sign board next to the staff). I asked, “Good morning, I would like to pick up my degree… um, yeah, that sheet of paper…” I’m pretty sure they all gave me weird looks. Pays homage to how socially unadjusted I’ve become.

Graduation Snippet #2: I was about the only person at today’s ceremony clad in black, orange, yellow, green and white. (Black shorts, orange biking fleece, yellow biking windbreaker, green helmet and white t-shirt.) Everybody else had gowns and flowers in black, orange, yellow, green and white.

People ask me why I didn’t attend my own graduation ceremony, but still made the time to get to my friends’ ceremonies. Simply put, I don’t like it when things are about “I, me and myself”, which is what graduation ceremonies are about – “my” time to cross the stage, “I” receiving congratulations from friends, “my” diploma etc. Which is why I don’t celebrate things normal people celebrate, like birthdays, because they are about “I, me and myself”. It’s not my style of doing things. Moreover, when things are focused on the “outside” and not on the “inside”, with unnecessary pomp and procession, that makes things even worse. Just as Hank shivers whenever I speak Chinese, I shudder at the thought of needing to dress up.

I attended my high school graduation ceremony, where we also had to dress up, with tie, dress shirt, formal pants and black shoes. To receive whatever I received on stage from my form teacher, Mrs. Seck (who, if I only remember correctly, only did makeup on two occasions: her marriage anniversary and her students’ graduation)… That was experience enough to go through twenty seconds of fame, and I certainly don’t feel the need, and neither do I see the need, for the pomp and procession of more of the same.

Some people tell me that ceremonies are not designed for “me”, but for friends and family to congratulate me. So the real purpose is really about others to remember my achievement of making it through university, even if I don’t care much for the idea of making it through university. Frankly, I don’t buy that idea – the center of that argument is still the “me” – with “me” as the target of affection, praise and congratulations. Whether or not I like it or not.

Having attended two graduation ceremonies last year, I saw how impersonal and fleeting the ceremony is. I was reciting President Toope’s speech on the second ceremony. The ceremony is but a forgettable marker in time. The high of graduation comes and goes, and all I had thought of when I got home was to sleep.

What I’d truly take away from UBC wouldn’t be the pomp and procession of convocation, nor the words of the valedictorian, nor the words of the President. Rather, what I’d take away from UBC are the lessons learned, both from the classroom and from personal experience, on how to think, how to learn, and how to teach. University Chapel taught me how to be a person. And together, I’ve been equipped with personal traits and skills to bring service and blessings to the world through research. None of this substantial stuff is related to a forgettable ceremony.

The above is why I don’t attend ceremonies. Then, why in the world would I make it to a ceremony not of my own?

The graduating batch of iGEMers are a different story. We have walked a tough final year together, complete with sleepless nights, LAN parties, making each other the butt of jokes, and an awesome road trip to top it off. That makes enduring President Toope’s recurring speech, the pomp and pretence of the ceremony, the crowds and lineups (I hate both) and the rain worth every minute I spent there. They may not share my viewpoints on graduation ceremonies, but I can totally dig that. The photos are for them, because they would like it and would love it.

Congratulations, Hank, Mark and Amelia; wherever the four of us end up, may we never forget each other and the great times together.