Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Graduates

For reasons that he couldn't possibly explain to you, TigerBlog refused to go to sleep the other night until the Florida-Oklahoma softball game ended.

This was Monday night, and it was Game 1 of the Women's College World Series. If you didn't see what happened, the game went 17 innings before Oklahoma won 7-5, with a three-run home run in the top of the 17th before Florida could only get one back in the bottom of the 17th. Back in the 12th, Oklahoma got two to go up 4-2, but Florida came right back to tie it again.

Oh, and for reasons he also couldn't possibly explain, he was rooting for Florida.

TigerBlog wasn't even watching the game on TV. He was following it on Twitter and through the live stats, and the game ran well after midnight. Still, he refused to fall asleep until he knew who won.

As he watched the live stats refresh, he thought he heard it begin to rain. It was definitely raining when he woke up, and as he listened to it fall, one of his first thoughts was this: How will this affect graduation?

Then he got an email from Dan Day, the University's Vice President for Communications. If you were to build the perfect VP for Communications for a university, you'd build Dan Day. Anyway, the email said that the ceremony would be held outside, as opposed to in Jadwin Gym, which would be the indoor site. TigerBlog is pretty sure that no graduation since he's been around has had to be moved indoors.

As it turned out, the rain held off - mostly - for the 270th Commencement in Princeton history. TigerBlog saw most of it, at least on the big screen behind Nassau Hall.

It was cool but not chilly and damp but not too bad for the ceremony. Even when it rained, it only spit a little, never turning into anything steady.

TigerBlog is a big fan of graduation. He's a big fan of tradition and history and celebration and pomp (and apparently, circumstance), and graduation is all of that rolled together.

His own college graduation was held in a building that no longer exists, the Philadelphia Civic Center. It was a nice day and a nice event, but TigerBlog never felt the institutional connection that permeates everything that's happened on the Princeton campus the last week.

BrotherBlog? He loved graduation so much that he did it three times - undergrad, master's and law school. Maybe he just did it to milk graduation gifts out of people? He did have a great pre-graduation party before his law school commencement at U-Dub, where TigerBlog had Thai food for the first time.

As TigerBlog has said, though, nobody does these milestone events like Princeton does. TigerBlog likes the term he just used - "institutional connection." Everything that's happened in the last few days has been a reinforcement of that connection, and a celebration of it. To someone who has spent more than seven times as many years on this campus than on Penn's, he can tell you that this is something very different and very special.

The speech yesterday by valedictorian Jin Yun Chow was about the "unsung heroes" of Princeton, the people who keep the University running and help the students have a better experience in any number of small ways. TB assumed he was included in that group.

The entire ceremony was formal and structured, and TigerBlog really liked it. The awarding of the honorary degrees even included a major surprise - Kareem Abdul Jabbar received one.

For TigerBlog, the best part of graduation every year, though, is to see the recessional of the graduates themselves, how they go through FitzRandolph Gate for the first time and then wind their way back out of the area in front of Nassau Hall.

TigerBlog watched the ceremony while sitting on a cement bench. As University president Chris Eisgruber gave his final remarks - concluding with an emphatic "Onward" - the area around TB began to swell with family members, professors - and coaches. They were there to say goodbye to their seniors, and congratulate them on becoming alums.

As the grads started to make their way by, TigerBlog saw a lot of familiar faces. They'd worn the uniform specific to their team for four years, but now they were all in identical caps and gowns.

He saw Ashleigh Johnson. Then he saw water polo coach Luis Nicolao, who probably was taking graduation 2017 harder than anyone else, since it meant that the best player he'll ever coach was receiving a diploma.

He saw the women's basketball grads. The field hockey grads. The softball grads. The football grads. Team after team walked by. Men's basketball. That was a lot of points that was holding diplomas.

At one point, TB was standing next to Jim Barlow when the men's soccer grads came by.

There were hugs for the coach, but not the kind of hugs that you'd see at any other time, not after a game, not after a goal, not after coming back to school for an alumni event after being away for 10 years.

No, this was the kind of emotion reserved for this moment, with a proud coach and the players who were thanking him for all he did to get them to this day.

TigerBlog waited to see the 11 members of the men's lacrosse team. Eventually they made their way by, and in the world of athletic communications in 2017, TB wanted to get a picture for Twitter and Instagram.

He watched them as they gathered together. He'd seen them play for four years. He'd traveled with them, to their games and even to Europe. He'd seen the paths they'd gone down as players and teammates, how some played pretty much every game and others hadn't played nearly as much, how some had played for four years with barely a scratch while others had to deal with injuries that kept them off the field for long stretches.

Now they were together, 11 guys, all with diplomas. It's about the journey, of course, but it's also about the finish, getting there with your teammates.

As TB got them to get together for the picture, he thought about all of that - and wondered when the next time these 11 would all be in the same place at the same time again.

They were here now, though. The entire Class of 2017 was.

Together again, one last time, together in the moment, celebrating one more win as Princetonians.

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