It’s graduation season and we’re all out in bleachers, overlooking turf fields as music plays, speeches are made and graduates walk across a stage.
As I sat through a graduation, I wondered a lot about the purpose of formalities. Who is it for? What is it for?
When I was graduating high school I remember being quite bored sitting in a chair for two hours waiting for my 10 seconds of fame hearing my name and walking on the stage.
Perhaps there’s a reflective quality of thinking back on all the hard work that got you there. But as an 18 year old, I certainly wasn’t meditating through the ceremony getting in touch with my deepest feelings. I was anxious to get up and move around.
So the formalities aren’t really for the graduate, but maybe they’re more for the family? The parents and grandparents get to hear the music and speeches and go back to a time in their lives.
I think that’s part of it. Formalities often start for good reason, but as they’re replicated over time, the initial reason becomes less clear and they’re done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” For some, formalities serve the purpose of nostalgia, and that’s a valid role to play, but it doesn’t mean it’s effective in the present moment.
If I were to re-design something like a graduation, I would incorporate something more reflective. Perhaps the opportunity for guests to write a letter to their graduate at the beginning. Or for the graduate to write a letter to their families and friends honoring all of the work that went before this point.
At a ceremony with parents, siblings, grandparents and community members, it felt like the opportunity to honor anything at all was completely missed. That’s just how we’ve always done it, but it doesn’t mean that’s how we have to do it going forward.