"Commencement" means "beginning"...and usually "hot and boring" too -- to follow up on Nat's roundup post of commencement speakers past and present, I thought back over my many graduation experiences. Here are some notes:

Mom's graduation from Rutgers U., May 1975: I attended as a wee 8-month-old, in the blazing sun on the all-concrete urban campus. I don't remember this, obviously, but there are photos of me wearing my mom's cap...that must explain the long educational career ahead of me.

Kindergarten Graduation, St. Adalbert's School, Elizabeth NJ, May 1979 -- I was the "valedictorian," for what that's worth, and walked up on stage with Mrs. Pomianek, our teacher. A nerd is made, not born, people. I also remember we wore white caps and gowns, and sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" while waving big paper stars covered in glitter.

Third Grade "Commencement," Victor Mravlag School No. 21, Elizabeth NJ, June 1983 -- I gave a little speech while wearing a fashion nightmare: blue and white strappy sundress that I hated, brown leather sandals that I hated, new brown eyeglasses that I hated, hideous Kate Jackson haircut that I hated. To top it all off, I had a big scab on my nose from falling face first off our backyard swingset a few weeks prior. Lovely.

Sixth Grade Graduation, William F. Halloran School No. 22, Elizabeth NJ, June 1986 -- Green caps and gowns this time, and I sang the school song with the a cappella madrigal group in our signature neon green blazers. I remember wearing very stylish (at the time) white jelly shoes that tore up my feet, but I wouldn't admit it to my mom, who had predicted that very result.

Eighth Grade Graduation, Battin Middle School, Elizabeth NJ, June 1988 -- No caps and gowns this time; I think I wore my super-80's sweatshirt-dress with big shoulderpads and many strings of pink fake pearls!

High School Graduation, Elizabeth High School, June 1992 -- There was much controversy over the weighting of grades and how that determined our valedictorian and salutatorian, my friends Carol and Christine. In the end, who cares? Christine went to NJIT, and Carol too, I think, after having to turn down MIT because they didn't offer her enough financial aid, sigh. I graduated #12 out of 711 (there were 900+ *before* the final exams were graded, ouch), and got to sit in the front row. There were so many graduates that you just stood in your place when they called your name, nice touch. We were the 15th graduating class from the high school: before 1977 there was a girls' high school and a boys' high school, until a nice Title IX lawsuit merged them. The gender divide persisted, however, in our caps & gowns: boys in black, girls in cheesy see-thru white. I did everything I could to switch -- left the "Gender" box on the order form blank, put down "E. Durand" as my name...but no dice. In protest, I wore a checkered sundress underneath that showed right through -- oooh, rebellious!

One other note: my siblings and cousins all went to Roselle Catholic High School instead of E-town, and they had to wear emerald green outfits (white shoes for the girls!) and sit through a long Mass and parade of faculty in academic robes, as if they were at Oxford or something. By the time my youngest cousin graduated, my Dad and uncle were ready to burn the place down, and the loathsome headmaster wished *me* congratulations on graduating (I was 25 at the time!).

Tufts Graduations, Medford MA -- I attended the 1995 ceremony, featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin as speaker; and my own in 1996, with author Betty Bao Lord speaking and brilliant poet Seamus Heaney receiving an honorary degree. We wore thin black caps and gowns, which were pelted by oak seedlings as we sat outside for the ceremony -- Paul and I sat next to each other and watched two squirrels running up and down a tree trunk for most of it. The ceremony is at 8am, and the night before is the traditional midnight candlelight procession to the top of the Hill, what are they thinking?!

Other collegiate ceremonies included: Seton Hall U. in 1993 for my mom's Masters Degree (just like one of their basketball games, loud and silly with lots of beach balls); Rutgers U. in 1994 for my sister Becca (featuring Jumbo Bill Richardson as speaker), where my other sister Sara and I set up lawn chairs for the family in advance and sat there frying in the sun for hours; Drew U. in 2000 for Sara (the best post-ceremony catering spread of all, shrimp cocktail for the masses!). My brother graduated Seton Hall in January 2000, so I missed that one.

Northeastern Law Commencement, May 2000, Boston MA -- Big, heavy black robes on a hot, humid day, ugh. The ceremony was inside the university hockey arena, where none of us had ever been before. My friend Wyeth and my favorite professor spoke, followed by Judge Isaac Borenstein, who gave a long, rambling reminiscence of his Cuban-Jewish heritage and his battle with prostate cancer. Really. The invited speaker was Sister Helen Prejean, the death penalty activist who was played by Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking." The reception was awash in cheap champagne, and I got some fantastic gifts, like my briefcase and some very fancy pens, plus a big box of legal pads from my parents, ha ha.

Wow, that was a long post.

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