Commencement

Berkeley High‘s graduation exercises have always been an event that smacks of Berkeley’s most unique limns and details.  It’s a big school–about 600-700 kids in the graduating class each year– and the event is held at Cal’s Greek Theater.  The audience gets to face west late in a June afternoon, which means either into scorching, blinding sunlight or a blanket of fog.   Yesterday we got both, along with three hours on a concrete seat, knee to back and back to foot in the risers.  The grads had the luxury of folding chairs, but the plastic gowns didn’t do much to warm up the shorts-wearers once the fog landed. For some families, this is a big deal because it really is graduation, an end, a last moment before the grind. for others, it’s a frippery, and for some it seems to border on farce.  The bleachers were stuffed full, with moms wearing black church dresses and moms weearing faded gardening capris, uncles in white shirt sleeves and fathers in antique chamois LL Bean shirts (once the fog rolled).  For the most part, kids in the audience weren’t plugged into iPods, although an occasional text messaging event seemed to happen in furious elbow twitching waves in our vicinity. The program is composed of whoever wants to be on the program, a democratic starting point that is astonishingly well stage managed, although there’s no way to create a sense of logical flow from a sring quartet accompanied soloist to a vamping satire of modern dance performed by a half dozen slightly inebriated boys.  (The inebriation may have been adrenalin; who knows?) The red and gold robed kids in the pit paid a modicum of attention the stage, occasionally tossing a beach ball to give their teachers a last bit of physical exercise, and attempting to do the wave–by the fourth try, they almost had it coordinated enough to look like a wave rather than obscure rising and seating by individuals. (An adult who had a moment at the podium called on the audience to show the kids how to do it and Bob and Carole hepped to with those who know, while Sally and I sat to keep from messing up the show off of perfection). Sally’d come equipped with reading material, which lent  some levity to our little coven of attendees.  Having never read the Book of the Revelation, she’d printed off a copy from the internet, and exclaimed over passages that surprised her, just as events on stage were surprising much of the rest of the audience.  Oh, so Berkeley! It was already 7:45 by the time the names started being called but, lest we become bored with that element, the names themselves offered us every possible ethnic history, high flown imagery, fond hope, and bravado.  There were a variety of nations represented in given names, including China, Asia, Jamaica, and Ontario. The print program offered up the consequences of hyphenated family names rehyphenating into the third generation, leaving some kids with monikers that would take three or four servings of form boxes if they were to be able to insert all the letters they’ve been dealt. All in all, it was a kind and gentle ending to Berkeley living.  One speaker reminded us all to honor diversity, not in terms of groups but down to the level of individuals, and that was on offer, on stage, in the grad camp, and in the bleachers. Besides being exhausting, the event was an honest rendition of what Berkeley has hoped and dreamed it can show the world in the way of alternative modes of community. 

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