The Boy graduated from UVA on Saturday, so the last several days have been all about that. We reserved a hotel room about a year in advance, paying confiscatory rates for a room I’d describe as basic. We drove down on Friday, met TB and his girlfriend for dinner, and planned our route for Saturday.
For those who don’t know, UVA is large, and Charlottesville is small. It’s a company town. The hotels know when the big days are, and they take full advantage. We also expected the kind of traffic typical of a football game day. We were right about the hotels but wrong about the traffic.
We showed up early enough to wait in line for the metal detectors to start. We found good seats and waited for the graduates. The event planners decided that it would be a good idea to commission mediocre acoustic performances of an odd array of pop songs to play at high volume while we waited, apparently to drown out any awkward silences. Among the song choices were covers of “You Know I’m No Good,” originally by Amy Winehouse, and “Girlfriend in a Coma,” originally by The Smiths. How either of those fit the occasion is anybody’s guess.
The graduates proceeded onto the lawn, mostly with balloons, though they didn’t go down the middle aisle as we had expected. Happily for us, TB understood the assignment; when he got to the point at which we could see him, he stopped and posed for some quick shots. TW seized the moment. We were able to track him as he went because the friend with whom he walked had the only Buffalo Bills balloons there.
As well as the university had planned the ceremony, though, it forgot to plan for the scattering of the crowd. The scrum was mighty; we were glad that we advised the grandparents not to come. (They watched the live stream.) If anyone at UVA reads this, this would be my suggestion for improvement: people were well-behaved, as far as I saw, but the shoulder-to-shoulder moving crowd was overwhelming. There must be a better way.
Given its size, UVA splits the ceremonies. The morning starts with everyone gathered in one place for speeches, with President Ryan ceremonially accepting the candidates for graduation. They don’t get their names read, though, because there are too many. After the big ceremony, graduates adjourn to departmental ceremonies by major. TB was a double major, and the ceremonies for the two departments overlapped, so he had to choose. He chose biology.
The departmental ceremony was much smaller. Every student got their name called and got to proceed across the stage. TB had his well-earned moment with many of the biology faculty on stage. As we left, TW asked if any of his favorite professors were there. He said that the ones in attendance were the “heavy hitters,” but that he had classes with a bunch of adjuncts. I reflected briefly on the out-of-state tuition we had paid.
Every class is special, but this one actually had a couple of unique claims. This was the class that had been sent home in the middle of the spring of the first year and had spent the second year entirely online. Last November it endured the horrific news of a mass shooting on campus, followed by the sheer terror of the daylong manhunt for the killer. President Ryan repeatedly acknowledged the students—Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D’Sean Perry—who had been murdered. The athletic director, Carla Williams, was the graduation speaker; she shared some conversations she’d had with D’Sean Perry’s family. I have to tip my cap to Ryan and Williams for managing to respect the gravity of the losses while still keeping the overall tone of the day appropriately celebratory. It would have been easy to err in either direction, but they didn’t. I imagine that was harder than it looked.
After an afternoon break, we caught the farewell performance of The Boy’s band, Without Proper Lighting. WPL played at Crozet, a popular local pizza place and bar. TB is the lead guitarist. The band wore their graduation gowns for the performance. The crowd featured a greater-than-average number of parents, so the band trotted out a few oldies for our sake. I had to laugh when TB almost missed a solo because he was milling around the crowd; he ran in front of the stage and soloed just in time. It was a bar band moment par excellence.
Now he’s a graduate. Next month he’ll be living in New York City and working at his first full-time job. We couldn’t be prouder.
I’ll get back to my usual critical distance soon enough. For today, some unfiltered parental pride seems more appropriate.