Notes From My Knapsack 5-12-16
It's Just a Day, One You Make
This week Denison University marks a Saturday commencement, their 175th.
Two more weeks and a day later, Granville High School has commencement, the number of which I'm not sure, except that it's the Class of 2016 and that's a kind of important class to me and mine.
A commencement ceremony is, if you break the word down, a beginning, a commencing of something, not so much an ending, even though that's really what's on order. Diplomas are handed over for what has been done, concluding speeches and songs and celebrations mark an end to public schooling or a college career. It has very much a sense of an ending to it.
But in fact those who complete their stage of education are simply preparing themselves to commence another. Even a college graduate who has no intention of graduate school is going to, on the job, be going "to school." A new computer program or database system, the official workflows or office protocols all have to be learned, mastered, utilized, and it's what you've been going to school for, truly: to be ready to learn how to work with and in that new framework.
You commence to learn as you end a form of formal education, and so this is a turning point, a signal day for you whether concluding a college degree or completing a high school curriculum.
The rest of what makes a commencement ceremony is ritual and culture and tradition. It is theater of a sort, with a script and acts and a finale. It is a day, and in one sense it's a day like any other day, except your school district, your family, your community has chosen to make of it a particular sort of day. It's special because we've decided to make it so. It has a sunrise and a sunset and in between the usual number of hours, a day like almost any other.
I have a friend who is a woodcarver. He takes a piece of wood and makes something of it, and enjoys pointing out how a particular feature or aspect of the finished product is actually the result of a knot or a twist of grain. That irreducible element of the material is bent to make an ear, a handle, a feather outstretched. It becomes art.
Another friend works in sculpture, banging away at a large piece of rock. Cracks and seams in the stone dictate some of the lines, and she makes of them what she can, her vision turning some of the rest of the material where she will. In the end, the piece of art has its own integrity.
And I work with words, myself. Certain subjects come to mind, arise on the calendar, and there's a length and placement I have to keep in mind. Within those parameters, I can create. It is both constrained, and free, all at the same time.
Commencement days are very much like those pieces of artisanship. Some is given, and much is not open to adaptation, but in between you can make marvelous connections. In the end, it is what you make of it.
For all of the local graduates, college and high school alike, I hope for you that the art of your day be a practice run for work yet to come, taking each day on its own terms, but making of each as you can a thing of beauty. It is just a day, but what a wonderful day.
Make of it what you will!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you make a day out of the tools at hand at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.