I love that damn song. Serious, so haters be warned. I love it so much in fact, that I put an extended version above so you can listen to it for the entire time that you read this post. I am considerate like that. The song itself hails from Liverpool (-______-) and has an interesting history. The title comes from Act III, Scene III of the Bard’s Othello:
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
…which is mildly problematic to my general philosophy, but Imma let that slide in honor of the season, and that season is, as my senior girls have been proclaiming: “GRADUATION BITCHES!” And also because the composer, one Edward Elgar, based the theme of his marches on Lord de Tabley’s poem The March of Glory, which suggests the “shows of things”: the naïve assumption that the splendid show of military pageantry –”Pomp”– has no connection with the drabness and terror —”Circumstance”— of actual warfare. Written before the Great War, you gotta cut him a little slack because people really had no idea what our vengeful, havoc-wreaking species was capable of at that point. Elgar seemed to be in on what #5 would have called the great cosmic joke. Let’s hope.
Regardless, I love that song. And it is a good thing, because in my chosen profession, I am guaranteed to be inundated with it every year, as we close the books on another year, and another class of high school seniors set loose in an unsure world. This year I worked with a truly unique group of seniors, not just because they are from Berkeley, but hey, let’s be honest, they are from Berkeley, but also because the are kids who, for the most part, self-identify as artists and intentional fringe thinkers.
Consider for a moment what the crazy side of Berkeley looks like.
Because Berkeley High is so big, the school is arranged into four small learning communities (and two not so small ones). As such, each of these communities has their own commencement that is much more intimate than you are going to get when your graduation as a whole is going to fill the floor of the Greek Theater with the graduates and sell out the rest of the venue with families and friends. The weird part is that the kids end up graduating in a much more intimate context a week before the actually graduate. Which is awkward. [Consider trying to get all your seniors who are already pretty checked out, back in the game after they have “graduated”? Sheesh.]
So one arduous week after our own, smaller but tremendously significant celebration, I found myself locking up room A205 for the last time and heading out to the Greek. I went to the large school graduation because I wanted to see my kids in their BHS red and gold, and let’s face it, I had to see what this whole shitshow was going to look like. Also, my T.A. this year was someone I have known for years, as she is the cousin of one of my oldest friends. She was not only graduating, but singing at the event. I had six other students performing: one of my EL students was leading the ESL presentation in her native Amharic, one of my students was dancing in the Afro-Haitian performance (Berkeley High School is the only high school in the country with a full Afro-American Studies program), and four of my students were dancing in the final D.P. event of the year to Iko Iko. In addition to this, the ceremony was kicked off with an amazing performance of the Haka.
So full of win.
There was supposed to be a prank going down – each senior would hand our principal a jelly bean. Why? Because then he would have handfuls of jellybeans! – they explained to me.
I wondered if they had really considered who our principal is, and frankly, was more excited to see how he would handle them on the rebound. I am guessing they forgot for a second what a rock star he is, and that he would be just as able to hand the damn jellybeans back…
For a ceremony honoring more than 800 kids, most of whom who are actual high school graduates, things moved pretty quickly. A couple of HUGE pronunciation missteps, but otherwise, they got through it all before 8:30 p.m. Impressive!
I watched a couple of my precious darlings rush the stage and ignite a total scene. I bolted.
And as I cruised down through the Cal campus passing by the Campanile Tower set against a bright Northern California, June dusk to head home, it finally felt like summer.
The real winning has now commenced.