It’s graduation season: Celebrate the ritual

It’s graduation season: Celebrate the ritual


The chancellor spoke in Latin. The graduands, all black-gowned and hooded, dipped or kneeled as the president tapped a mortar board cap on their heads declaring them graduated. I joined the group of freshly-educated at the University of King’s College encaenia. We sang hymns and bowed for prayers, following the traditions of Canada’s oldest chartered university. The fellow beside me had little time for it – the religion, the pomp, the regalia. Another classmate couldn’t get enough, deeply moved by the ceremonial exercises.

As identification with organized religion wanes, it’s easy to forget that it’s  not all about a higher being, that participating in the traditions of the church, temple or mosque has other benefits. So does watching a symphony perform in a packed hall or singing the anthem after Canada Day fireworks. Each brings together a community of people  to focus on a shared HelenaGraduatedexperience. Electronic communications have taken away other smaller traditions that make us pause – the salutation of a letter, the hand-written thank you note, the polite chat with your friend’s mother who answers the telephone.

Rituals are the signposts of our lives. They tell us to stop and regroup. The graduation ceremony gives us time to consider what we have done and what we may do, where we have been and where we might go.

Since 1959, cherry blossoms have bloomed in Toronto’s High Park. They were a gift from the citizens of Tokyo in recognition of Toronto’s welcome of relocated Japanese-Canadians after WWII. They attract thousands of people each spring simply to admire their beauty; they bare no fruit. Their function is to make us stop and reflect on the ephemeral beauty of living.

As we marched through the streets of Halifax, a parade of crows with wings spread, I wondered about my colleague and others like him, and why they participate in something that is near anathema to them.

They could have their parchment arrive by mail. They could come for the party and comradery, skipping the ceremony. Instead, my classmate chose to join the crowd, to don the gown and smell the blossoms, as it were, for the few hours of celebrating knowledge and learning and achievement. He deserved to be honoured and lauded and congratulated.

Peculiar freeze and thaw weather confused the cherry trees this year. The leaves arrived before the flowers had a chance to appear. So the springtime ritual of the walk in the park under the umbrella of white and pink, the hush that comes over the strollers as they take their first steps beneath the canopy simply didn’t happen. We lost the interlude to give thanks, to be grateful.

It is good to be reminded to take that pause, even if you think it doesn’t matter.

Blossoms, all of us.

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