May is the month of early graduations, and I've been to my share of them. In one week, I've attended two graduations, and four parties—in two states. As young adults graduamutate from student A to student B or adult 1, there is excitement and nervousness looking forward, sadness and (usually) fondness looking back with closure. Watching this repeatedly has given me some great time for reflection, which includes the economic analysis you've been craving like a hot dog with mustard.
These are nice, formal occasions. The best ones make you appreciate what you love about your school, the worst ones make you glad to leave. I've been to two nice ceremonies, but what always gets me is the "we're-not-going-to-clap-for-the-one-person-you-came-to-see-because-we-want-to-hold-applause" rule. Yes, I understand. It takes a long time to get through all those kids, and all their middle names (and after awhile it feels like you're playing moniker roulette with all the "Nicole/Marie/Elizabeth/Annes"). As an economist, I understand the need for timeliness and efficiency! But if those were the goals, trust me—we'd email diplomas.
The goal is to recognize an individual's years of hard work and accomplishment. After four years, you get a quick ovation and maybe a "woooooo!" from your extended family. It's a terrible return on investment, but ultimately the little celebration isn't why you get educated (you also get a diploma, so it balances out). Still, the powers that be have tried to take away even this small token of recognition.
The high school phrased it this way in the program this year:
Graduation from high school is a milestone in the life of students and their families. The dignity of the occasion can best be observed by refraining from whistling, shouting or applauding for any one student. This will allow everyone in attendance to hear the name of each graduate. Your congratulations can best be shown by applause for the total group after the last graduate has been awarded his diploma.
If you told me it was for decorum, fine. If you told me it was for efficiency, fine. But telling me that I'm only allowed to congratulate the whole group is like some recognition Ponzi scheme—you pour in and pour in and wait and wait, and then in the end, you get way less than your fair share, because everyone ahead of you has used it all up.
Thankfully though, no one observes this ridiculous rule. Those reading the names pause just long enough for some quick whistling, shouting, and applauding, and the families and friends comply. This is what I like about America—we recognize individual effort, even when told to only think in group identity.
If I were one of those bitter people who believed that Valentine's Day was a ploy invented by Hallmark (for my views on Valentine's Day, click here), I'd believe that graduation was invented by the growers of avocados and other snacky products. There is a LOT of demand for guac, brie, and brownie bites around graduation. Graduation raises the demand for one good (chips), and then also raises the demand for a complimentary good (guac, salsa, hummus, bruschetta, bean dip, queso, spinach dip, sour cream and onion dip, etc.). In other words, when someone buys hot dogs, they also buy hot dog buns. When someone buys lemonade mix, they also buy plastic cups. Graduation parties generate a lot of demand for a lot of complimentary goods—meaning producers of those goods (and partygoers with enthusiastic palettes) benefit.
If we celebrated all the graduates together, there would be one mass graduation party, with one mass instance of applause, and the world would be a dreary place. So while reading through Nicole Marie Johnson and Elizabeth Nicole Miller, and party hopping from chunky guac to guac dip to hummus, remember. It's better to celebrate everyone individually. More lemonade?
I kicked off the graduation season in:
Tribal zebra print sheath dress, black cotton cardigan, skinny braided belt (courtesy of my roommate!), silver disk earrings, black flower ring, and black open-toe leather slingbacks.
*In Colorado, May also includes freak hailstorms, rainy days, and outdoor graduations.