Monday, June 21, 2010
CHANGING: SOCIETY OR US?
It is true. Jerry and I both were born and raised in a more gentle, or genteel, time. Our graduation activities may seem awfully stuffy by today’s raucous rituals, but we didn’t perceive them as stuffy. We did what was expected of us, and that did not include bouncing balls or flying tortillas.
It was a shock to us the first time we went to a high school graduation for one of our grandkids and heard all the yelling and hollering that went on when the seniors walked across the stage to collect their diplomas. About a week later we found the same thing at a college graduation ceremony, which was even more riotous. What kinds of graduates were we producing, we wondered? And why did the administrative staff allow this?
But then I had to think back to some of the “goings on” my dad told me about in earlier days, like how on Halloween evening young teenage men, just for fun, would tip over the family outhouses, and how excrement-filled paper sacks would be put on porches and set afire, hoping that the homeowner would come out and thoroughly stomp out the fire!
Even later when Jerry was at MIT he remembers two specific things, called “hacks,” that happened because of the traditional rivalry between Harvard and MIT. One year the main gate to Harvard Yard was mysteriously welded shut. The other, which is still mentioned from time to time and in fact is listed in Wikipedia, happened in Jer’s Sophomore year during the 1948 football season. The night before the Yale-Harvard football game a group from one of the MIT fraternities buried primer cord (a mild explosive) out to the 50 yard line of the football field, where it was then laid out to spell MIT. The young men intended to set it off during the game. Had it worked and not hurt anyone, it would have been spectacular. However, the grounds men discovered the cord prior to the game and quietly removed it. During the game the perpetrators were identified because they were all wearing long heavy coats on the fair-weather day. Inside these coats were batteries which would be used to set the primer cord off.
Now granted, these latter events didn’t take place during a solemn ceremony. And I would suspect when it was time for those young people to receive their diplomas, they did so with decorum. And you have to admit there is not all that much drama among our local students and one probably should not be too concerned about something as simple as a flying tortilla.
However, I truly wish I could sit at a graduation and not have all these extraneous annoyances going on in front of me. There is some kind of a correlation between societal changes and personal changes, and I suppose it is easier to blame society for a loosening of its standards than to think one’s own actions have that much power. I may get irked at a flying tortilla, but is it a change in society’s values that allow it to be ok to sling one of them across an auditorium or is it just a playful kid?
In the old days townspeople took sport in public hangings. We have moved from that, thank goodness, so I suppose a big vinyl ball being batted back and forth among college graduates should be considered progress and I should save my fussing for something really important.