Walk This Way

Swarthmore had its commencement this morning, on a very pleasant late spring day. I like to sit closer to the front so I can see the graduates and the audience, but it does mean you have to pay attention as they can see you.

One thing that I always notice, year after year, is the striking individualism of every single graduate’s way of walking across the stage to receive the diploma and a handshake from the president. Some of them walk confidently across with a faint smile. Some are somber. A few scurry furtively across like a night-dwelling creature who has been surprised by a bright light. Some of them shake Al Bloom’s hand like they are his fraternity brothers, others shake his hand like they’re afraid he has a joy buzzer in it. A few skip across in delirious joy, waving to friends and family. Some shake their diplomas gleefully at the crowd. Some look at us to their right, some look at family to their left, most stare fixedly ahead, as if they’re afraid the stage will come to an abrupt end and they will pitch off into the bushes. This year, one man scowled fearsomely at Al, and then winked knowingly at him. Caps occasionally pitch off of tall or hirsute heads, usually right when the graduate leans to receive a diploma.

For the students I know well, somehow the walk always captures their personality perfectly: shy, bold, indifferent, quietly confident, boisterous, performative. A window is framed by twenty steps, and then they’re back in the crowd, one more face among many.

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6 Responses to Walk This Way

  1. hwc says:

    What a delightful weekend. From George Lakey’s Baccalaureate Speech to Prof. Mahdi’s Last Collection speech to the fireworks to the graduation ceremony in the ampitheater.

    Loved the jazz band versions of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Proud Mary, and Joy to the World during the processionals

  2. Western Dave says:

    Do seniors still decorate the President as they receive their diplomas? Or did that tradition run its course?

  3. peter55 says:

    Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, apparently devoted great efforts to studying people’s individual gaits and could recall them, even years later. He is supposed to have met his wife after recognizing her gait as one that he had seen before, and telling her where he had previously seen her walking.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    I’ll add that to my list of reasons why Baden-Powell is one of the oddest public characters in global culture over the last two centuries.

  5. Katie Davenport says:

    Do you remember Ed Stehlik’s graceful cartwheel across the stage in ’05? It was the highlight of my graduation.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, that was pretty awesome.

    Dave, I can’t remember when students stopped handing stuff to Al but now that you mention it, they haven’t done it for at least two years, it seems to me. Might be a good “tradition” to revive as a farewell to him next year. (Assuming he liked it: some of the stuff people handed to him or tried to put on him was pretty odd. I think the worst case was the student who handed him a book of matches in the year where we’d had a few little fires started in basements of buildings…)

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