Friday, April 30, 2010

Robes of the false priesthood?

Hugh Nibley is famously said to have told BYU graduates at a commencement that they were wearing the robes of the false priesthood (If I wasn't feeling lazy I'd actually try to look up the exact quote). At any rate, I couldn't help thinking of this today as we lined up in the cold to watch the incoming ranks of SUU's 2010 graduates.

I've spent a little bit of time since then (in between being exasperated at my children) puzzling over my response. A little bit of me was nostalgic for my own graduation; a bit of me was moved by the promise inherent in graduation--empty pomp and circumstance, false priesthood or no, it's one of our few remaining collective social rituals. But mostly, I was jealous.

Not of the graduates--I had that moment in the limelight. No, as I struggled to keep my unruly children in line (Andrew kept pushing himself in between the robed faculty and almost got trampled twice by trying to run in front of students to get to his dad, who was lined up on the side of the sidewalk facing us), I found myself mostly envious of the faculty, looking dignified and imperious in their robes. Even though I know these people are just individuals, there's something about the regalia . . . And I suppose a part of me resented the fact that any onlooker to the scene would see me just as a mother of small children--children I wasn't even keeping in very good order--but I was acutely conscious of the fact that I had the same degree as most of the faculty there. Pride, I know. And I know too that there's probably deeper messages I could be taking away from this scene (for one, the annoying quote my high school biology teacher had posted on his wall, "You give up the right to complain about that which you have chosen"). Those very children who identify me to outsiders are accomplishments that I value more than my dissertation (most of the time).

But the part of me that identified itself (and to a degree, still does) as an academic for so long was jealous, and wistful. After all, I never did get to go to my own PhD graduation (because the ceremony was across the country and my two-week-old baby was still in the NICU). And the robes do look impressive.

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