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Graduation is Not a Commodity

Four years’ worth of college memories can’t be bought

By Reva P. Minkoff, None

When we walk across the stage to get our diplomas at Commencement, we celebrate our entire Harvard experience: an experience that has consisted of four years’ worth of lectures, parties, and dining hall dinners. There are the people we have met, the classes we have taken, and the extracurricular activities we have poured our hearts into. Understandably then, graduating is an emotional personal moment, and consequently, during it, expensive keepsakes should be the last things on on one’s mind.

However, there is a growing trend toward reducing the personal importance of the occasion to potential purchases. For example, Harvard encourages families to send out graduation announcements, in the same way one would announce the birth of one’s child, and to purchase class rings that generally exceed $400—not chump change. Even senior portraits in their countless variations can come out to several hundred dollars. Are all these commodities necessary to remember our experience here?

I was once asked at an admissions information session whether I was surprised or excited to have gotten in to Harvard. I had never thought about it before as a public question. Regardless of how surprised anyone is or was, I never had a college acceptance party, or heard of any. Most students just buy the sweatshirt of their chosen school to represent their decision. In the wake of the high-school graduation frenzy, there is little pomp and circumstance beyond the congratulations received from those who know the student (and even those who don’t).

As Commencement approaches, though, the celebration of these academic accomplishments seem to have been elevated to a new level and an expensive one, at that. Tickets can be purchased for the various family events, as well as for the Senior Week events preceding it. Mailing after solicitous mailing about graduation memorabilia begs for seniors’ attention seniors are preoccupied with theses, the job search, and the application to graduate school. Other mailings are sent only to parents, leaving seniors in the dark about whether they want their diploma framed or a yearbook.

It seems once again the message being sent is that this graduation is the one that ‘matters.’ Both high school and law school’s final day will pale in comparison to our moment in Tercentenary Theatre, so now is the time to celebrate, commemorate and gather mementos no matter the price.

But the hundreds (if not thousands) of additional dollars involved in all this are not necessary in order for seniors to bring their time at Harvard to a happy close. And enormous canvas portraits of graduates in their cap and gown likely offer little of value to us, the students who got into Harvard, have actually attended, and will be graduating. These reminders may signify something to our parents, but our memories ought to mean far more.

Our best keepsakes come, free of charge, from the dining halls, dorms, classrooms, and clubs where they were formed. And in spite of all the solicitations made for photographs, jewelry, and other items, these recollections remain the most important symbol of graduation day and all that came before it. The University should make that realization too, and take care to limit their commoditization of Commencement.

Reva P. Minkoff ’08, the former Crimson Staff Director, is a senior government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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