Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Speaking Of Graduation ...

Forget Princeton football, basketball or lacrosse games from the 1990s.

TigerBlog can tell you the details of high school games he covered in the mid-1980s.

Every now and then TB meets someone who played a sport when he was covering high schools way, way back when, and he immediately remembers the name, the team, the games. He likes to keep that stuff to himself and simply say "hello," rather than coming across like some sort of weird version of Rainman.

It's way worse with Princeton games. Pick a year. TB can tell you the score of basically any Princeton lacrosse game, or details from football games, or stats from basketball games.

He's also good with song lyrics. And movie lines. And if you really want to be impressed, he can recite the entire book "The Cat in the Hat" from memory.

Yet for all of that, he cannot for the life of him remember who the graduation speaker was when he graduated from Penn. And beyond that, he definitely cannot remember a word of what the speaker said.

TigerBlog's graduation was held in the Philadelphia Civic Center, which no longer exists. He remembers some things vividly about that day, lots of things actually.

Just not the speaker.

He knows who the speaker was at the Hun School's Senior Dinner, and that was former Princeton basketball star Douglas Davis, himself a Hun grad.

Davis was the second all-time leading scorer in Princeton men's basketball history when he gradauted in 2012, and he moved down one spot to third when Ian Hummer passed him in 2013. Davis does have the distinction of having made one of the two most famous shots by a Princeton player in the last, oh, maybe forever, when his buzzer-beater knocked off Harvard in the Ivy playoff and sent Princeton to the 2011 NCAA tournament.

If you need TigerBlog to tell you what the other one is, then you're not really a Princeton basketball fan.

Anyway, according to the good people at the Hun School, Davis had a pretty strong message for the seniors. From the school:
“Life is filled with change and uncertainty,” explained Mr. Davis, “but what helps us maneuver through the unfamiliar are the things that are familiar and the things that, over time, have become routine.  A familiar foundation allows us to stand and when things get rough, allows us to remain firmly planted.  My family is that foundation for me.  The Hun School is that foundation for me.” Mr. Davis recalled his nervous excitement during his first collegiate basketball game, and how he was calmed by the familiar sounds of Hun School students cheering from the top of Jadwin Gymnasium.

Princeton famously does not have a commencement speaker per se, and as such all of those receiving degrees from Princeton this morning will not have to try to remember who was the headliner at their graduation. Instead, the speaker gives the address on Class Day, which was yesterday and which this year featured former Vice President Al Gore.

If TigerBlog had been asked to speak to a bunch of college graduates, he would talk in very real specifics about life, not in great generalities about changing the world and all that.

He'd talk about how the only thing better than high school is college, and that now that college is over,  it's all downhill from there. Nah, he wouldn't say that. Why say the obvious?

Just kidding.

No, TB would say that it's important to find a career that matches their individual interests, because they're going to spend a lot of time in their lives working. That's what TB did.

Sure, some people are driven simply to make the most money they possibly can. But then that takes them down a path that matches their interest.

Anyway, that's where he'd start. He'd work on it. Spruce it up a bit. But that would be the general message. Find the right career and then be thankful that you did. You'll be a much happier person.

So today is Commencement Day at Princeton. It is the 267th Commencement Day in University history, something that the Princeton Companion covers:
At Princeton's first commencement, held in 1748 in the Newark ``meetinghouse'' of which President Aaron Burr was pastor, seven persons took degrees: Jonathan Belcher, royal governor of the Province of New Jersey, who was awarded an honorary master's degree, and six young men who had passed their examinations for the bachelor's degree. These few ``commences'' were the objects of much oratory. At the morning exercises (one of the trustees reported in a New York newspaper), the clerk of the board read in extenso the 3700-word royal charter that Governor Belcher had granted the College. In the afternoon, President Burr delivered from memory an ``elegant Oration in the Latin Tongue'' that lasted three quarters of an hour, and, after public disputations in Latin by the six candidates and the conferring of degrees, the student salutatorian spoke in Latin for half an hour, after which the president prayed in English and dismissed the assembly. These proceedings gave ``universal Satisfaction, even the Unlearned being pleased with [their] Solemnity and Decorum.''
After the College moved to Princeton in 1756, commencement was held in the prayer hall in Nassau Hall until 1764 when more adequate space became available in the First Presbyterian Church's new building. Latin continued to be the language of choice, but, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, the proceedings were enlivened by an occasional speech in English and by music. In 1760, Benjamin Rush``in a very sprightly and entertaining Manner delivered an ingenious English Harangue in Praise of Oratory,'' and the graduating seniors sang two compositions by President Samuel Davies.

The current Commencement will feature degrees for about 200 undergraduates who were varsity athletes at Princeton for the last four years. It has given them a different perspective for their undergraduate experience, as they were tasked with balancing their athletic and educational responsibilities and had to devote considerable time to each.

TigerBlog often hears about the life lessons learned from competing in athletics in college, and especially at a place like Princeton, which demands so much from them in both education and athletics.

Now it's time for the Class of 2014 to begin to apply those lessons.

Those who coach here and are charged with administration of the athletic program also talk about the friendships that are made in their four years here that last for the next 40 or more. Well those friendships have been made, and now they are going to be put to the test of seeing whether they will in fact last for 40 or more years.

Of course, a casual glance at those at the 40th, 45th, 50th or beyond Reunions this past weekend would be a pretty good indicator that those friendships will endure.

And those two facets of the Princeton experience - the life lessons learned and the friendships earned - are really what all of this is about. More than the wins. More than the championships. More than the disappointments that come with competing and falling a bit short.

It's the friendships. And it's the molding of the individual, the framing of each graduate's own perspective.

And all of that has already happened. And that's why today is a celebration, of four years of very hard work, of four completely transformative years for everyone wearing a cap and gown this morning.

Yes, it was just a bit different for the athletes in the group. It's the reason they compete in the first place.

Hey, that wasn't too bad. Maybe TB would have used that in his speech.

Meanwhile, TB hopes that everyone who graduates from Princeton today goes on to achieve whatever it is his or her dream is to achieve.

And he thanks all of the varsity athletes for their devotion to the University and to their teams.

Watching them compete is a reminder that TB indeed chose his own right path.

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