Misbehavior Destroys Importance of Ritual

Cap and gown? Check.

Camera, videocamera and cellphone for instantly uploading photos to Facebook? Check.

Umbrella to keep grandma from getting wet or overheating in the sun inside the football stadium? Check.

Air horn, confetti, posters, noisemakers, beach balls, rubber snakes? Check.

Let the commencement exercises commence.

Earlier this month, graduating senior Chuck Shriner of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, Fla., made news by “Tebowing” on the stage just before he was to receive his diploma.

His effort to create a memorable moment was successful, as he’ll forever remember the day he was not handed his diploma but instead was informed he would be cleaning the school gymnasium after the graduation ceremony. Young Mr. Shriner was handed his diploma two days later by his mother, a teacher at Bishop Verot, whose anger at her son presumably had subsided by then.

That story is rare not for the antics of an 18-year-old high school graduate but because the student’s parent was supportive of the school’s administration.

Seriously. Rather than the headline “Florida teen ‘Tebows’ during ceremony, denied diploma,” the story ought to have been, “Student’s mother sides with school, nation shocked.”

It could have been worse. It could have been the high school graduation in Denmark where pranksters spliced a portion of a sex tape featuring a fellow student into a video of pictures from the students’ time at the school. Yikes.

It’s a sad reflection on our times that auspicious occasions such as high school, college and even graduate school commencement exercises routinely include inappropriate behavior, not only on the part of graduates but, disconcertingly, by their families and friends.

Woe to the grad whose name is called immediately after that of the student whose family is so overjoyed about the achievements of their loved one that nothing but a train whistle will do to announce their elation.

Makes you stop to wonder: Is the fact that this kid is graduating from high school really such a surprise?

If it’s true that no one really expects proud mothers, fathers and siblings to hold their applause until every name has been called, it nonetheless smacks of selfishness to carry on so loudly and for so long that other families can’t even hear their students’ names announced over the loudspeaker.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter whose kid you drown out as long as your child gets the attention you think he or she deserves.

Etiquette at commencement exercises has a purpose — as it does in all circumstances: respecting the rights and feelings of others. That’s the simple purpose of all manners, archaic as some of them may seem in our “cool” and casual culture.

More important, we’re losing something important about rites of passage such as commencement exercises when we allow them to take on the flavor of a baseball game. (“Cue the organ, my child is approaching the stage!”)

We human beings are designed for ritual. It’s part of our hard-wiring. We create ceremonies and traditions because we crave meaning in our achievements, we want to mark time and accomplishments, we want to lend substance to the milestones in our lives.

Thus the high-minded and platitude-filled commencement addresses, the billowy black robes, the mortarboards, the pomp, the circumstance.

There is no place for the air horn in such an atmosphere.

In “A Preface to Paradise Lost,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual.”

Doing ceremonial things unceremoniously. Such a sad yet apt description.

Surely the efforts of our young people are worthy of a little decorum, sans confetti?

Marybeth Hicks is a columnist for The Washington Times and founder and editor of Ontheculture.com.

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