Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Graduation and The World

My apologies for being AWOL. Did anyone notice? (LOL) I was attending my older son’s college graduation, which was wonderful. I’m going to drop what some educators call the H-bomb here. He graduated from Harvard, and he did it all himself. I can’t take any credit for it, except for trying to get good meals into him and teach him to avoid all-nighters. “Get your sleep,” I’d rail, “your brain will work better.”

Amen, truer for me now than ever.

How does this relate to writing? There I was, sitting on the Yard, thinking again about what a wonderful opportunity this college had been for my son, and listening to the graduation speeches. It was hot and my mind wandered from time to time to how different the school turned out to be from what I’d expected/feared. I’d worried about elitism, but instead discovered that Harvard is an environment that strives to engender mutual support.

Kind of like many of the bestseller authors we meet at conferences and book stores. Most are lovely people. Every now and then, there’s someone we’ll want to forever avoid, but by and large, the greats are supportive. I’m thinking about people like Michael Connelly, Stephen Cannell, Barbara Saranella (who is missed), Jan Burke, and others.

Another aspect that struck me was the sense of humor. Mired in tradition, the actual graduation ceremony is opened by the Sheriff of Middlesex, in top hat and tails, who pounds his staff three times and—I can’t think of a verb that better describes it—bellows, “This meeting will be in orrrrrrrrderrrrrrrr.”

My husband did not agree when I commented later about the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the formalities. “It’s not tongue-in cheek," he said. "It’s tradition.”

“Yes, but the school is very clear the tradition stems from the drunken partying of previous students and faculty,” I argued. How could it not be partly humorous, I wondered, when the dental school grads threw toothbrushes and dental floss into the air and the education PhDs tossed Dr. Seuss?

I stick to my guns. A sense of humor is needed. Funny works. Spectacularly.

The last aspect that struck me was how many of the graduates spoke of their fear. Leaving the shelter of the university, a surrogate family, for the world at large is a scary prospect. Kind of like having one’s first book published, and finding that your publisher does little promotion. The major bookstores may not stock it, and if they do, it’s for the signing you’ve got in three days. A month after the signing, you can't find your book on the shelves. Then you discover that returns are deducted from royalties.

But wait. It’s still the satisfaction of doing a good job. Pat yourself on the back for the accomplishment. The world can be a tough place. Those educators are on to something with Dr. Seuss. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.”

So we writers do. We keep going. It also helps to remember a quote from Mark Twain, another very smart person. "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."


Vicki Delany said...

Love the quote. Congratulations to Egan.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Thanks, Vicki. Now I've got some work to do on the younger one. These kids. Who would have dreamed of the roads they'd lead us down?

Donis Casey said...

You have my awestruck congratulations for putting a son through Harvard, not to mention his achievement in graduating

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