Together, We Commence

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BY ELIZABETH STANFIELD

Brown is a strange place to call home. Students commence their time here fully aware that they will leave, mindful that after four years they will be strangers to these familiar spaces. They dive as deep as they can into classes and activities and friendships, yet they have to remind themselves that all of it is temporary. Graduation may be the most obvious reminder that students get. As the Class of 2014 officially marks departure from Brown, seniors reflect on the significance of commencement, senior week, transitioning, and what it means to call Brown home.

The question of calling Brown home is complicated and personal, but many seniors agreed that Brown had become a home in one way or another in light of the four years of intense study and growth achieved as a student. Some found it more appropriate to call Brown “a” home, but others did not hesitate to call Brown simply “home” because their lives and selves had come together at Brown in such a monumental way that Brown had to merit this title. Still, graduating seniors acknowledged that as their current living situation would change and as Brown’s turnover would take over, Brown’s significance as home might change as well.

But this experience of change will vary for graduates. Some will retain their student self as they head into professional school and masters programs, but others look forward to work, time off, or simply the unknown. For those who came into their own in at Brown, however, they will make the effort to remember how to be this self in a new environment. Even if Brown will become less and less of a physical home, graduating seniors reiterate that they will find some form of home in the selves that they’ve cultivated at Brown.

As graduating seniors set out to transition in many life directions while still holding on to Brown, they get to share one last commonality: commencement. Naturally, commencement fits into the mold of ritualistic graduation ceremonies, and its cliché nature strikes some as less significant than others. In days leading up to this past Sunday, some seniors actually said that commencement was absurd, a silly formality that made itself out to be more meaningful than it was. After all, the heart of the Brown experience seemed to lie more in the normal, day-to-day activities: moseying down Thayer, complaining about Providence weather, staying up too late or out too long for intellectual conversation. Commencement’s attempt to tie a neat little bow on the enormous gift of everyone’s college experience felt superficial; who would remember the speeches anyways?

In fact, commencement was sometimes viewed as more like an event for the family then for the seniors themselves. While a collection of graduates joined a number of family members as a Brown alumnus and regarded Brown commencement as part of family tradition, others saw commencement as their parents’ introduction to Brown, an excuse for their parents to make the trek to the East Providence campus and create a tangible memory to go along with the four mysterious years when their child wasn’t home. In either case, the importance of commencement rested in how a graduate’s family would perceive it. Thus, as family members trickled in for the weekend, seniors were eating meals with parents instead of friends and celebrating commencement as a family event.

Yet in a way, this seems like not what the seniors would want to be doing. While family would remain constant, friends would be missed the most, and some were terrified about not being in the same place as friends again. As for friendships, then, senior week marked a crucial time to focus exclusively on peer bonding before diving into commencement.  Some found that this week of organized fun took a couple of days to buy into, but finding the groove gave them the courage to be goofy and carefree with old and new friends alike. Maybe a drunken mess in many ways, this suspension of life offered an important closure before the final day of commencement.

Clearly, seniors have different takes on commencement, senior week, and Brown as a whole. By Sunday, however, few could say that this final set of events was meaningless. Especially for those ceremony-oriented people, commencement was an acknowledgement of their success in navigating the Brown undergraduate experience. Parts of it may have felt cliché or superfluous, and other capstones from the last four years may have contributed more to Brown’s significance than the last week of their Brown career has. Regardless, this singular event of commencement will be valued for somehow striking at doing justice to this major step in life from one home to the next.

Based on conversations with Julia Shube ’14, Steven Arroyo ’14, Brian Moore ’14, and Carmen Sobczak ‘14

Photo via by Mike Cohea / Brown University




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