Words of Worth

Pomp and Circumstance

May 20, 2011

It is probably safe to say that somewhere in some educational institution in the world, the march, “Pomp and Circumstance” will be playing this weekend, and someone will be struggling to keep their mortar board in place. As a professor in the higher education world, one of the most pleasant, and at the same time, unpleasant events on campus, is Graduation Day! Why is it that such a day, which celebrates the milestone achievement of so many students, is both a cause to smile and to cry? Without fail, as soon as I hear “Pomp and Circumstance” at any graduation ceremony, I’m reduced to tears.

This confusing blend of emotion reminds me of a children’s picture book, which also causes grins and tears, The Hello, Goodbye Window. The story is about an imaginative little girl who spends time with her Nanna and Poppy each day as her parents work. The kitchen window in the grandparents’ house is a place where magic and love happens. It’s the place where the young girl plays games, watches the stars, spots her parents coming to pick her up, and most importantly, where she says hello and goodbye to her grandparents. It is at this window of magic and love that the young child first greets her grandparents when visiting, and where she says goodbye when her parents return to pick her up at the end of the day. And while the girl is happy to see her parents return, she is sad because it means the end of the visit with her doting grandparents. What a portrayal of a child’s emotions as she is both happy and sad at the same time! Her grandparents try to help her with this powerful conflict by saying, being happy and sad as the same time, “just happens that way sometimes.”

It’s that happy and sad at the same time thing that I think gets me when I hear “Pomp and Circumstance”. Imagine the excitement of saying hello to students for the very first time, growing to love them and watching them conquer the rigor of academia. Imagine the day when you have to say goodbye to those who have walked the hallways of your school, and occupied a seat in your classroom world as well as a place in your heart. Imagine the day, when all the lectures have been given, and all the exams have been taken, that they exit your classroom for the last time! Is it any surprise that smiles morph into tears?

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (see Psalm 139) is that various emotions can exist at the same time. And isn’t it equally intriguing that things which are in contrast to one another, often follow one another? For example, endings follow beginnings, goodbyes trail hellos, joy in the morning follows tears at night, and commencing trails graduating. And not only do contrasting experiences give way to one another, they often become part of one another. A beginning can’t be a beginning if there were not endings. Joy would make no sense without sadness. Pain often eases into the comfort of pleasure and would hardly be recognizable without it.

So it is safe to expect that somewhere in the world this weekend, when “Pomp and Circumstance” is playing, and someone is struggling to keep their mortar board in place, there will also be someone who is being happy and sad at the same time– “…it just happens that way sometimes.” (SV)

Psalm 126: 5, “Those who sow in tears, shall reap with joyful shouting.”

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