Graduation Day
Saturday, May 17, 2003
Tomorrow I'm going through graduation ceremonies, celebrating the completion of my masters degree in Human-Computer Interaction. Nevermind that I and all my year-mates (augh, vocabulary sublimated from Valdemar books) don't actually finish our work at CMU until August; there's only one ceremony a year, for the whole school, so it's now or nunca.

This is kind of a trend. All my scholastic life I've looked forward to 'graduation'. It has such a cathartic ring to it. Yet I'm not sure that I've ever experienced 'graduation' in the true sense.

My first graduation, from elementary school, was called a 'matriculation', a big word I wasn't willing to internalize when I had already pegged the ceremony as being a 'graduation'. In Junior High School, graduating from Portola Magnet, we also were 'matriculating', but at least we got honest-to-god diplomas certifying our achievement, and we got them on stage, in front of our families.

High school, the most well recognized of all levels of 'graduation' was, I believe, actually referred to as a 'graduation', [oops. As I recall this morning, it was called a 'culmination'. No graduation there either!] but the actual ceremony of the principal calling each (of 655) graduate's name, shaking their hand, and handing them a scroll tied with a ribbon was slightly dampened by the growing pile of gumballs and other paraphernalia at Principal King's feet, as some of the less mature students wished to leave their final (only too literal) mark on the school (or the hand of the head of that institution) which they were departing. The other downer was that the scroll we received wasn't, in fact, our diploma, but instructions informing us that we needed to return our caps and gowns to the basketball gym, in exchange for our diplomas-held-hostage.

Berkeley graduations were fun. Here we had elevated from the terms 'matriculation' and 'graduation'. This was 'Commencement': the simultaneous completion and onset of our lives, representing initiation in the truest senses. Mind you, mine was premature. I still had one language requirement to fulfill, a requirement which not only did not need to be filled in Berkeley's hallowed halls, but one which we were encouraged to complete at community college, to free up space and professors for pursuits more novel and advanced than rote memorization. But I digress.

Like High School, each participant in the Berkeley ceremonies receives a small, tightly tied scroll. This time the scroll attests that the bearer participated in the commencement ceremonies for the department in question. It doesn't say they earned a degree, but it does affirm that they sat in a chair, and had their name read aloud.

The funny part is that they'll let anyone with a cap and gown in to the various Berkeley commencements. Indeed, several students were supposed to repeat, considering that there are roughly 20 ceremonies for different departments, in addition to special ceremonies for students of color, re-entry students, and other groups unaffiliated by field of study. I have friends who participated in as many as 10 ceremonies, writing their name down on 10 cards, sitting in 10 seas of graduates, and having their names read by 9 unphased professors or directors (okay, 0, but the 10th should have been unphased, considering that one of the ceremonies was the one they were expected to attend), before offering their hands to be shook on stage, and proceeding down to the inevitable champagne and strawberry reception following the ceremony.

Still, it feels really good, and it's easy to suspend my disbelief into convincing myself that this is what it's all about, on loan for one more semester; Christmas early.

In about 10 hours I'm going through my final Commencement ceremony. This time I get to wear the plaid and gold hood of a master, and I have family from nearly 3,000 miles away to cheer me on. This time really does feel like a commencement, a tipping point, a point of inflection on the integral of my life. While actual completion is still 12 weeks away, I'm rapidly narrowing in on what my future holds beyond August, and should have it resolved by the end of the week. It's as though the train tracks that I've been laying just in front of the engine of my life are finally connecting with the main line, and I can continue on without counting on just-in-time education, planning, employment, or anything else.

I'm clearly rambling, but what I'm trying to say is that it's funny (that I'm graduating prematurely once more), and that it's good (that life's map is being drawn well, and by my own hand).

I should go, because in five hours I have to pick my mom up from the airport, where she's flying in on the redeye from Los Angeles, and then drive back to campus to start the festivities. I'll make sure plenty of pictures are taken, including some by me.

On a tangental note, I've interviewed with twenty-eight people in the last three weeks, and the single most common question asked of me was "why did you go back to school and get your Masters?" I came back for answers, for training, and an internal affirmation that the skills I learned in the real world aren't a facade of confidence, trendy design ideas, and design-by-ego. While here I've built a foundation of UI and HCI understanding that I can build on for the rest of my life. I have a much clearer idea of my own abilities, and of the things I want to do with them.

Anyhow, I should sleep and quit it with the St. Crispin's Day deal. Tomorrow I get to graduate, rain or shine, and it's going to feel very, very good.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
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I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

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