The odd thing at this second Commencement ceremony to be graced with my presence was not that they had a guy in a big teddy-bear-wearing-robes mascot. The co-op has long sold ``graduate teddy bears'' and when the graduates and parents are around and it's a good chance to sell them from pocketbook sizes up to ones the size of a small child. The odd thing is they didn't have him around after the ceremony, when graduates might get their picture taken with him. Wouldn't you get your graduation pictures taken with a guy in a bear mascot costume who's himself in cap and gown?
I was surprised to learn they had cap and gown that fits me; they didn't have any measuring sessions ahead of time, and just brought in a lot of robes. This fit pretty well -- robes aren't that complicated -- although they did have a pleated collar that made sure it felt like it was bunching up. They didn't have a hood, a shame, since a good wide hood is one of the best parts of the Doctoral cap-and-gown. Also the gown didn't zip up; it just had a single hook, so I was self-conscious of the thing swinging open.
You'd probably think it's easy to be one of those strange anonymous gowned people sitting on stage behind the chancellor and people reading the graduates' names and such, and you'd be right. The trickiest part was walking in order, a point the organizers explained in such detail that there could not be any doubt whatsoever. The organizers also explained the ``seat marshall'' who would not go to a seat before you, but would be ahead of you in line. If this seems like a thin topic to stretch to five minutes of explanation, you've got my impression. I guess they want to be sure it goes right.
Before the ceremony they had a nice Video Testimony of graduates, and various professors and staff explaining how neat the school was and how marvelous the alumni house is (free e-mail forwarding for life! Can you feel the excitement?). Distracting my eye was that despite the interviews being in front of perfectly ordinary campus locations, they were all plainly chroma-key insertions. Why do a chroma-key of a place 100 meters away? Why use, apparently, white as the matte color? Why use one picture in which the background building is in so much perspective the eye isn't fooled for a moment except to think the people being interviewed must be fifteen feet tall and falling forward? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
The ceremony was very trimmed down; there were no speeches from the chancellor, the class president, the invited guest speaker, the provost, the dean, the vice-dean, the guy in charge of photography, et cetera. They just jumped right into the reading of the names, and after that, a valedictorian's address which was exactly like every valedictorian's address ever. Indeed, they abbreviated this so much they didn't play the entire national anthem at the start and close -- just the first eight and last four bars, if I'm not mistaken. I felt gypped; the lyrics to ``Majulah Singapura'', if you read them in your own language, are bland extruded national anthem product, but if you hear them in a language you don't speak they sound poetic, and the music is marvelous anyway.
Graduates received a cylindrical tube on-stage; I watched hard as I could but couldn't figure out if they were placeholders or actual diplomas wrapped up inside. Then I watched the students who marched offstage; they were directed outside the venue and back in another door, with -- aha! -- a diploma in a square envelope. The tubes could open, and you could roll yours up and stuff it inside, if you wanted. Mystery solved. One graduate dropped his tube on stage, drawing the only laugher and sincere applause of the diploma-granting. Outside the venue but inside the building they had an instant lamination service. Really, in these troubled times, don't we all need more instant laminations? I know three rooms on FurryMuck that offer just that.
The band they'd hired for the outside performance was playing stuff I guess meant to get people in a festive and ceremonial mood. According to their sheet music, they were playing songs from the musical The Phantom of the Opera. I thought the particular tune played sounded like somebody didn't quite get Vivaldi's ``The Four Seasons'' right.
At the end of commencement but before we professors-in-robes left the stage, the organizers dropped blue and orange (school color) balloons and confetti. While it drew joy from the students and guests, it was a tactical mistake: you cannot march out with grace and dignity at a steady pace and straight direction if you're dodging balloons, and the many ushers weren't able to catch them all as the audience bounced the free balloons around.
And in silly endurance-contest news: contestants at Plaza Singapura hope to win up to S$20,000 in prizes from air-conditioner maker Fujitsu by standing the challenge of staying awake and standing for 72 hours in the Cold Room, wearing only shorts in a room at the chilling temperature of ... 18 degrees Celsius. (Contestants are allowed brief breaks to warm up, and go to the bathroom.) You no doubt recall that just days ago Plaza Singapura was one of the ends of the new Guinness Book of World Records-certified Longest Satay Ever. You all knew Plaza Singapura was the place to be.
Trivia: The ancient Egyptians regarded the Sphinx as a benevolent creature personifying the fruit-bearing earth, and representing wisdom and knowledge. Source: Who's Who In Mythology: A Classic Guide to the Ancient World, Alexander S. Murray.
Currently Reading: Louis Pasteur, Patrice Debré.