On June 8, 2006, I graduated from Harvard College with a degree in Government (not, as two different people over the last few days assumed, History). I was going to write a long drawn-out post about graduation, but then I decided not to. Finally, I decided that it was important, if not necessary, to write at least a bit about Commencement, even if it was published three weeks after the event.

A scene from Harvard Commencement on 8 June 2006.

I have interspersed pictures throughout this post, because it is very long. There would have been more pictures, but either I have shaky hands or the stabilization features in my digital camera suck, since about half the pictures I took that day are too blurry to keep. I would buy a new one, but I am not sure whether I should buy a robotic hand or a better camera. Maybe both.

A black sneaker worn during Harvard Commencement on 8 June 2006.
I will not lie and tell you that Commencement was sunny, or even that it was dry. It was wet, but the rain was intermittent, and did not bother me as much as the tales of deluge that I have heard some other graduates tell. Here is the truth: the ground was muddy. Many people wore unorthodox footwear (see left). Our plastic ponchos came in handy. Nobody drowned. I did not encounter any puddles big enough for my socks to become wet.

A Dunster House standard, as seen on 8 June 2006, during the morning exercises at Harvard Commencement 2006.

Since the entire University participates in the Morning Exercises, undergraduates receive their diplomas in a ceremony in their respective Houses. While the earlier, larger ceremony was exciting, the more inclusive House ceremony is probably the one I will remember with more fondness. From the size of the graduating class (a bit more than 100) to the actual receiving of my diploma to the endless pictures afterwards, it was extremely similar to my high school graduation ceremony.

The one major difference that I can think of is my activities after the ceremony. After the ceremony in high school I think I went with my friends into Princeton. This time, however, I went up to my room and fell asleep. While Jim Lehrer and President Summers might have had important things to say, by mid-afternoon I had had enough of speeches full of platitudes, memories of the past four years, and advice about my class' significant future.[1] I just wanted my well-deserved rest.[2]

I would be lying if I claimed that I did not feel some anxiety during Commencement. While my parents did not know it, I was slightly worried that I would not get an actual diploma at the House ceremony.

In the months leading up to graduation, I was worried that I would miss both college and Cambridge. When I was a freshman, I spent substantial amounts of time missing high school and Princeton - not school itself, but my friends. I do not talk to only a few of them on anything approaching a regular basis. I am not sure whether this is the result of me moving away from New Jersey, or the fact that many of my friends from high school do not seem to use the Internet with anything approaching the manic frequency of people at Harvard, or something entirely unknown.[3] This is not because Cambridge holds some kind of sublime appeal over me,[4], but because of regrets. In my first weeks as a college freshman, I assumed that my friends would my roommates, the girls upstairs, the random freshmen I met during the various events of Freshman Week, and the stacks of Widener.[5] Excepting part of my first semester of college, I would not count a single member of the previous groups I mentioned among my closest friends.[6] Now, for the most part, it would either be extremely painful (I do not really like them. More importantly, I do not trust them. You cannot confide in someone you do not trust.) or impossible (we do not really talk anymore, and I am not the best at reconnecting with people after long absences) to become (or re-become) friends with these people. Library stacks are more forgiving[7] - it is always easy to redeem yourself through reading.[8]

But back to Commencement. While I knew that I had fufilled the requirements for graduation, I still had 3 library books out. None of them was overdue (which would guaranteed me a blank piece of paper instead of a diploma), but I was not sure whether having outstanding loans would doom me as well.[9]

However, I can think of worst fates than not graduating because of bibliophilia. Besides, when I had finished the books, I could always return them in exchange for my diploma.

I think Paul Graham put it best:

I find every ambitious town sends you a message. New York tells you "you should make more money." LA tells you "you should be better looking." Rome tells you "you should dress better." London tells you "you should be hipper." The Bay Area tells you "you should live better." And Cambridge tells you "you should read some of those books you've been meaning to."

Part of the reason why I was not too sad about leaving Cambridge was because I knew I was coming back. Among the various perks of my new job is a Harvard ID card, which will allow me continued access to both Widener and Lamont libraries. Boo-yah!

Below is my favorite picture from Commencement, even though I did not take it myself. If you look closely, you can see me.
A picture of several members of the Harvard College Class of 2006 during morning exercises of Commencement.
[1] One would think that we were going off to a war where, if we were successful, we would return as heroes to re-shape the country in our own image. This analogy is stupid not because life is not a struggle, but because our graduation would integrate us more into the world, rather than vaulting us into the upper echelons of its leadership. From the rhetoric I heard in the days before graduation, one would expect that Harvard's Class of 2006 was the only bulwark saving the world from a new age of ignorance, conformity, and slavery. As a member of said class, I can testify that there is just as much stupidity and mob-like behavior in my 1600 or so classmates as in any randomly selected part of society, regardless of the former group's advantage in intelligence.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I feel compelled to note that later in the evening, I did go out with my friends.

[3] Yesterday, for the first time in 4 years, I have thought about the fact that high schools have 5 year reunions. My dreams of busting down double doors and standing on tables are probably not going to come to fruition.

[4] Actually, I am pretty sure that I only like Cambridge because it is Princeton, if Princeton was placed next to a large city, thus expanding its urban landscape to larger confines than that of Princeton Borough.

[5] And maybe some maverick professor would take me under his wing and change my life.

[6] Your closest friends are your confidantes. They are the ones whom you tell secrets to, whom you stay up all night talking to, whom you argue with but still respect afterwards.

[7] It is worth noting that with people you do not trust, there are always several layers of the truth. When you are in the innermost layers of the onion, seemingly nonsensical events take on a certain higher significance.

[8] If you have not read a book you want to read, you can always go to the library and pick it up. If someone else has it out, you can recall it in order to ensure that you get a chance to read it. The same, unfortunately, is true of neither friends nor lovers.

[9] Doom referring in this case to temporary mortification and many questions from confused parents.