April 27, 2017
In few weeks, a bit over 400 individuals, including myself, will all wear identical goofy hats and walk across a stage to receive a paper document that acknowledges our ability to consume an obscene amount of caffeine and withstand four upstate New York winters. This ceremony will feature a lot of photo taking, tears, smiles, hugs, inspirational statements and not-so-inspirational statements. Sometimes I wonder if an alien civilization observing humanity could tell the difference between a typical graduation ceremony and a cult gathering, but then I try to shut up my overly cynical brain and simply enjoy the prospect of graduating—if I finish my thesis on time.
I do not personally think that leaving one’s home, going to an institution where one takes an arbitrary number of courses, for an arbitrary number of years, under an arbitrary set of rules has an inherent redeeming quality in itself. Such redeeming quality is even harder to defend in the case of liberal arts where the degree does not equip the students with a clear profession that feeds the consumption-obsessed economic machine. I realize that questioning the value of liberal arts on this campus is controversial, and that some people genuinely believe that the pursuit of knowledge is an end in itself. I respect that belief, but I also think that the pursuit of knowledge does not necessarily require a state-of-the-art climbing wall, a sushi bar, an annual celebrity speaker or concerts featuring one-hit wonder artists. I am not denouncing all these niceties; I quite enjoy them. I am confessing how these mentioned niceties, among many others, consistently urge me to question my attendance here.
Whether you are paying the full tag price, on a full-ride scholarship or anywhere in between, we are all privileged here. Being able to casually sit down with a professor for hours to discuss my trivial essay ideas in a world where billions do not have running water has always perplexed me. I could only justify such privilege through one of two means: first, to aggrandize my sense of self-entitlement as to believe that I, more than anyone else, deserve such luxurious experience. Second, to admit that I have been awfully lucky, and that I have to earn the right to such privilege.
I loved and hated Hamilton. My reasons for loving this institution are compromised of the typical clichés: it has been a home, I have made friends, I have learned and grown, etc. My reason for hating it –besides developing coffee addiction—is that in Hamilton it is much easier for me to adopt the first rationale and aggrandize my sense of self-entitlement than it is to acknowledge my luck and strive to earn the right to the fortunes it brings.
I guess being cynical toward graduation ceremonies is justifiable. After all, the ceremony celebrates a yet unfulfilled achievement; the degree itself is just a pointless piece of cardboard since it has not yet served a purpose. I am not referring to a heroic or quixotic type of purpose—no saving the world here—but to the simple awareness that most of my fortunes are not a reflection of an innate quality. I am referring to the ability to reflect such awareness in my mundane day to day life. Wish me luck on that!