A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that “individuality” is the key to success.
Today I happened to listen to the Chancellor of a deemed University, that has students from across India. There is no doubt that it is one of the finest educational institutions in India.
Incidentally, the Chancellor was a member of parliament as well. The Chief Guest was the speaker of India’s Parliament, the democratic institution that represents one-fifth of humanity. It was a big deal because the Speaker could grace the occasion, despite the position he was holding.
The Chancellor opened his speech with how successful the University had been. He quickly switched to the past convocations, pointing out the fact that three Prime Ministers including the incumbent, two Presidents, two past Speakers of the Parliament, and a couple of Vice-Presidents had graced the University’s Convocation in the past.
The speech went extolled the largesse of the present Chief Guest, his history, and achievements. There was no break, and finally, somewhere, the students who were to be awarded and their parents were remembered, almost like a footnote in his hour-long speech.
The Chief Guest, a Master’s degree holder himself, rose to speak. He spoke in chaste Hindi with an English translator. His speech started with the greatness of this democracy and how the democracy has changed for good during the rule of the current party.
‘The actions of the present government have reduced the corruption at all levels.’ He thundered in Hindi, with the demure voice of the translator following. ‘The youngsters of today should participate in democracy.’ He went on about how India has to reap the dividends of its human capital. He sounded exactly like the Prime Minister. The many thousand graduates-in-waiting had to listen to this, holding on to their bladders, and hungry and thirsty for almost four hours.
Because the Chief Guest was the Very Very Important Personality (VVIP), he was protected by the Z+ category cover (the highest security cover for any Indian leader). The students were ushered in 2 hours ahead and were held inside the large air-conditioned auditorium.
Then came the parents. Most parents who worked in menial jobs or jobs that struggled to feed have put everything they had – mind, body, and money to see their sons and daughters achieve this feat. Now, they would not be allowed to see their kids getting the awards, but they were herded off into an enclosure, because of the security measures for the VVIP guest. I saw them clamoring for breakfast and lunch, even carrying an extra piece for their kids, lest they were hungry or thirsty.
It was a hot day, as thunderstorms were expected, but with the humidity, the day was like a typical summer day in Chennai.
When I met my son after graduation, I asked him how it all went and what he thought of it. His response was simple.
What sort of guy needs such protection that about ten thousand students, on the biggest day of their lives, are held hungry, thirsty, and bursting bladders against their will?
I smiled, for I had no answer. We took selfies and laughed over his photos in his graduation robe.
‘I don’t mind this suffering. I had my friends so we joked and chilled out. You don’t bother.’ He said, smiling in his typical skittish manner.
We had been brought up to be the ‘common man,’ to suffer in demure silence and to listen to these ‘inspiring’ speeches of men who dress in pristine white and walk with kings with sycophants and yes-men following their shadows.
I had a few questions that I put to myself.
- Why would a politician be the Chief Guest of a graduate function?
- What does it mean to those parents and students who hedge their lives and livelihoods to see this big day?
- Why were the parents treated like second-class citizens by the very institution that earned its income from them?
- Why would the Chancellor talk about the greatness of a politician rather not showcase that education was a tool that one could use to contribute to better lives and society, and highlight the success of their alma mater?
- Why did the Chief Guest talk about democracy and the role of youngsters, rather than not connecting the dots between the youngster’s education, and how that could contribute to a better country?
Neither the Chief Guest nor the Chancellor connected with their audience. Maybe, a great chance to address the youth of this great country was missed.
The youngsters treated the graduation day like a get-together party. We returned home and treated ourselves to Pepsi and Pizza.
Graduation night was my last party,’ he said. ‘Or at least my last drink. After that night, I decided I was done with all of it.’
~Kody Keplinger, A Midsummer’s Nightmare