I am a bachelor tonight while Kathy plays with some friends from the Theater Guild – but I wasn’t stuck eating franks ‘n’ beans out of a can, that’s for sure. This afternoon at Carthage was the New Alumni Convocation, a formal ceremony in Siebert Chapel to kick off commencement weekend. (Distinguished alumni awards are given, several speeches are given, the chamber singers perform, etc.) which is followed by an elegant event called the Promenade Dinner. On this one night of the year, the Hedberg Library becomes the fanciest eating establishment in town. . . with stations set up both upstairs and downstairs where a plethora of delicious delights are served. . . but the best part is the fun of endlessly circulating around the library, mingling with the graduating seniors, faculty, staff and administrators even as you search for still more delicacies. It’s quite an elegant affair and almost everyone is really dressed to the nines (nearly every guy in a suit and tie – nearly every gal in their dressiest dress) but it’s relaxed and free enough that you can really enjoy yourself thoroughly. . . unlike some fancy affairs where you spend the whole night in dread of using the wrong fork. This isn’t like that at all, and thank goodness! The last thing these soon-to-be-graduates need is something else to be uptight about. This is a celebration- and it’s fun! And actually, I ate almost nothing at all because I was having too good a time talking with people and just didn’t feel like standing in line waiting for a taste of Vesuvian Veal with Current Chutney. I was content to camp out by the spectacular fruit table with fellow voice teacher Amy Haines and do my damage there. (Fear not. I stopped by Taco Bell on my way home.)
The only thing I worried about tonight was that it would not be easy to chit-chat with graduating seniors because for so many of them the future is not bright with promise but rather gray with doubt. A precious few of them have jobs already lined up, but the vast majority of them have no idea what’s next for them, and you can’t help but ache for them and for how different the world looks now compared to what it looked like when they started college four years ago. Four years ago, life was a rocket pointed to the stars. Now for many of them, life feels like a jalopy stuck in an Arkansas swamp with a dead battery and two flat tires. At least I would have thought that until tonight, because what I saw in the faces of these seniors and heard in their voices was a surprising amount of joy and excitement and anticipation even for those who don’t have anything certain in their immediate future. Maybe that’s what tonight was partly about- generating some joy in the midst of these harsh economic times and reminding these seniors that they still have plenty to celebrate.
By the way, the convocation before the dinner included the bestowing of two Distinguished Alumni Awards, and I felt privileged indeed to be friends with two of the three recipients. One of them, Anne Dudycha, sings alto in the choir at Holy Communion and is one of our congregations’ most irreplaceable, dedicated members. The other, Tom Vignieri, is very likely the most accomplished musical alum that Carthage has ever produced. . . but his greatest claim to fame is that he went to Carthage the same time my wife did and the two of them have been good buddies ever since. So unlike most years when the distinguished alumni awards go to people I’ve never heard of like Dorchester Dirtwhistle, class of ’33, it was so much fun to see people I know and admire standing up there and receiving much-deserved accolades. And as I thought about the richly satisfying lives that both Tom and Anne have lived, I couldn’t help but wonder about the great difference which some of these new graduates are going to make in their lives. The possibilities are endless.