Monday, May 12, 2008

I think it might be our fault

Not every day, or even every week, but often over the past 10 years (has it really been that long?!?), I've thought about my Dartmouth graduation and how impossibly miserable it was. It poured. And the wind blew. And the air was unseasonably cold. Those of us who had umbrellas saw them soaked through and rendered useless. Those of us who didn't absorbed rain from both the sky and nearby umbrellas until they were rendered useless. Those of us who wore anything but black under our gowns had our clothes ruined. Those of us who did wear black saw our skin absorb dyes that will probably come back to haunt us later in life in some as of yet unknown way (latent black dye disease). Our programs were soaked and resembled wadded up t.p. from a high school prank. Our mortar boards melted around our heads like american cheese on a hamburger. We were happy when our valedictorian decided not to speak, though our huddled mass could only muster a shivering groan to express our happiness. We were sad when our commencement speaker, Doris Kearns Goodwin, did not make the same decision. (In retrospect, her speech was very well done, we were simply too hungover, too cold and too wet to appreciate it.) We counted down the names to be announced and the graduates to walk across the stage, all hoping that we too could volunteer to give up our moment on the stage, our 15 seconds of fame, but we couldn't. At the end, our bodies were wrinkled prunes. We headed home, miserable and incredulous that our school had such a silly policy about outdoor commencement and didn't have the decency to erect a giant tent to protect us.

For years, my mom, my dad and my brothers all reminded me of how miserable my graduation was. In reply, I reminded them that they didn't really experience the misery and so were not allowed to complain about it. They instead watched on closed circuit television from inside Collis, the student center, and played ping pong (ping pong!!!) inside, where it was warm and dry.

Every other Dartmouth graduation I've attended (I've been to 3 others) has been beautiful. Perhaps a little warm, a little too sunny, a little too perfect, but these aren't things worth complaining about.

As a joke at our 5th year reunion, we received umbrellas for our gift. Thank goodness we did. It rained all weekend. We apologized to the other classes - sorry you have to have your reunion with us. Apparently the class of 1998 is cursed.

But I think I'm wrong.

This brings me to something a little more timely: this past weekend. My mom, Chris, Alex and I all flew out to Duke to see my youngest brother, Patrick, graduate. It was a lovely weekend. We toured the campus, met his roommate and some of his friends, and drank from the mystical beer trucks. On Sunday morning, we got dressed up, drove to campus, walked to the stadium where commencement exercises were to be held, and felt the resulting deluge when the sky open up over head. At that moment I thought: is it possible that it's our fault? Is it not the fault of the Dartmouth Class of 1998, but rather the fact that my family is involved? Chris's graduation was lovely, if a little warm, but it was indoors, so it really wasn't ruin-able. And who has ever heard of rain in Phoenix?? The gods probably, simply couldn't get a rain cloud to form over the Arizona desert! These are the things I worry about when I'm cold and wet.

So Alex and I purchased umbrellas from a couple entrepreneurial folks in a van and found a covered location behind a concession stand while we waited for the ceremony to begin. Then my mom called to say that she and Chris were inside the student center, trying to find closed circuit television. The pull of breakfast and warm, indoor air was overwhelming. So we waited for the ceremony to begin, took a few pictures of the miserable scene (I had always wished I had pictures of exactly how miserable my graduation was) and texted Patrick (thank goodness for cellphones) to call us when it was over. Alex and I had McDonald's breakfast and lattes. My mom and Chris played pool (I did not, lest I have to give up my indignation over the ping pong incident of 1998). And we warmed up enough for me to walk over to Patrick's dorm to get a few pictures of him, all wet in his gown.

Unfortunately for Patrick, the class speakers and the commencement speaker, Barbara Kingsolver, went on with the show. (I feel for Mses. Kingsolver and Goodwin - what a thankless job: delivering a commencement address to the cold and wet!) Fortunately for Patrick, the 15-seconds-of-fame/walk-across-the-stage moment happened inside the truly lovely Duke Chapel where it was warm...and dry.

So I must know from my Dartmouth '98 friends - what about your siblings? Did they have wet graduations? Or does the blame sit squarely on our shoulders?


  1. You cannot blame yourselves... You must remember that it also RAINED at our 5 year reunion... and the true test will be this year. Did you see that our class dinner is scheduled in the BEMA? Seriously, are they crazy to plan this?

  2. I would give credit to our speaker, but on reading the speech, I found it to be as awfully rambling, irrelevant, and offensive as I remember it. A fitting ending to an absolutely miserable ceremony.