This weekend, I graduated from the University of Missouri with a BA in political science. Walking across the stage to receive my diploma gave me a great feeling, particularly after being away from school for a few years. My experience this past year at a major state university instructed me not only in the nature of scholarship, but in those other things that have so little to do with, but so often accompany, the serious work of the academy. The commencement exercise featured the usual fanfare, a notable part of which has become the donning of specialized, non-academic apparel in addition to the traditional academic attire of such events. Students not only wear gown, cap and tassel, but many if not most black students also displayed brightly-colored, boldly-designed sashes, ribbons and mortar board decorations representing racially-defined organizations. The idea seems to be to celebrate the black experience of one's college years. Call me curmudgeonly, but I think this inappropriately draws attention away from those wearing distinctive apparel recognizing actual academic achievement. This strikes me as a presumptuous prerogative. The function of commencement is to confer an academic degree and mark a new start for graduates. The alternative attire not only ignores that purpose and diverts attention from its highest exemplars, but elevates racial identity to similar standing with the active, educational endeavors of the wearer. Academic officials would do well to curtail this "celebration of diversity," restoring dignity not only of ceremonial purpose, but to all its participants.
- May 19, 2010