Sunday, August 15, 2010


Yesterday, I took my dad along on a day trip. Our destination? My nephew's graduation; he was getting his PhD in mathematics from Penn State University. For the curious among you, here's an example of a paper he has written on "Multifractal formalism derived from thermodynamics," and here's another on "Bowen's Equation in the Non-Uniform Setting."

Yeah, I thought so too.

Anyway, the occasion gave me pause to think about passages. We sat in the Bryce Jordan arena, families arranged in clusters peering down on the floor below, where rows and rows of chairs were arranged. The masters' students were all arrayed on one side, sitting in small clusters; as it soon became clear, they were seated by their majors. Masters' students had dressed themselves and some had not mastered (tee hee) the fine art of arranging their hoods. Some did not have the velvet sides properly displayed: colors on the velvet denote the major, the inside of the hoods denotes school colors.

Then the procession began, led by the marshal with the official mace. Behind the marshal came rows and rows of faculty resplendent in academic regalia. Most robes were black, dotted with the occasional dark blue. And then there were the splashes of red, green or dusty orange gowns. I even spotted one pale blue.

Finally, in marched the doctoral candidates in their robes, with their faculty advisors interspersed. The doctoral students did not have their hoods on; instead they were draped over their arms.

When the degrees were awarded, first all the masters' students rose and were pronounced as having their degrees. I confess--I relaxed a bit, no individual names, I thought. But, wait. . . The voice on the loud speaker intoned, "We know the family members here are proud and have supported their sons, daughters, husbands, wives and loved ones, but please HOLD your applause until the end, and no yelling out so we can hear the names as they are called."

OH. Individual names. Indeed--called one by one, marched up to the stage, handed the degree, and then the newly minted grads walked down the line of dignitaries' shaking hands.

Then the doctoral students--first, they were all called to rise. Then advisors hooded them, and they were pronounced all doctors. And then the calling of names. By then, the well-behaved families and friends had forgotten the intoned announcement. As some names were called, there were loud cheers--"Go, ___" or "WOOOOOO". Well, I can understand the feeling.

Finally, our doctoral candidates name was called (and properly pronounced). I confess squelching the urge to stand up and go "WOOOOO" myself.

Passages are important. My father had expressed an interest in attending this graduation. I think he has attended the various graduations of all his grandchildren, who chose to participate in their graduation ceremonies. I likely would not have attended my nephew's graduation otherwise. But, it was a rewarding event to have attended.
Here's a link that has a photo album with a Penn State Graduate School ceremony: it is not my nephew's but shows what the scenes are like.

Photo above of my nephew--contemplating Niagara Falls, from the photo album on my brother's Facebook page.


Anvilcloud said...

"... and many hands shook." Blasted nerves. ;)

Beverly said...

How wonderful for your dad to be able to witness all these commencements, and congratulations to your nephew.

The last big affair that my husband had attended was David's graduation from Penn State. We were there on a ocld December day. David hadn't relaly wanted to bother with the formalities. I told him that if that much money had been spent, I wanted to see some kind of ceremony, and so he did and we went. I think David is glad that he had that moment with his dad. It is probably the last photo that they have together.

By the way, what's the word on the Lions? Did they get a good recruiting class?

KGMom said...

@Ac--ok ok, I changed it. I fussed over it when I first wrote and couldn't get it right. That's why it came out "many hands shook."

@Beverly--awww, sweet memory. Thanks for sharing. That's certainly a good reason to go to such events...we do not know when a celebration will be our last opportunity.
As for the Lions--?? who knows. Coach Paterno has been looking and sounding very frail. The news media is focused on that, and on wanting to know who the quarterback will be, and how the untested line will do. They are ranked WAY low...

Denise said...

So glad you were able to attend. I know it meant a lot to Dad to be there. I'm sure it was appreciated by all.

JeanMac said...

I clicked on one link - impressed but confused:) Congratulations to your nephew.

Jayne said...

There is nothing mathematical about my brain, so I'll leave the reading of those brilliant articles to those who can understand! Glad you all got to be there for him and were able to see all his hard work rewarded.

Ginnie said...

Written by a proud Aunt ! I love this sort of "passage" ... it is actually the start of one person's lifes journey.

Ruth said...

The titles of those papers were beyond my comprehension. Congratulations to the hard-working graduate and I wish him a bright future in his chosen field. I am sure it was a special moment for your father and the rest of the family too.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

It is a wonderful accomplishment to reach the doctoral level at University. Congrats!

I am glad you father could be at this occasion.

May I point out that your nephew is contemplating the Falls while he is standing in Canada. He looks like he is trying to work out a new formula to calculate the volume of water over the Canadian Falls to his right. Perhaps, he is think what it would be like if they did no divert so much water to generate electricity.

When I served the church in the Boston area I got to march at the head of the procession at Harvard's graduation. Now you can go Wooooo!. Historically, Harvard college was founded to train clergymen. Tradition was that all the "First Churches" in the immediate communities got to have their ministers head the procession. As it turned out after the Unitarians captured all the First Church congregational in the famous Dedham case decision, all the ministers at the head of the procession were Unitarian. So humble me found myself in the group representing the First Church (Unitarian) of Roxbury. I would rather have been collecting a doctoral degree. Perhaps, in the next life!

PS. Penn State needs to hire more European professors and they would have a more colourfull parade. I love the ones with the lovely floppy tam like hats.

Climenheise said...

We were indeed on the Canadian side of the Falls when the picture was taken. Didn't cross to the American side. So far as European professors go -- if Vaughn had any more Russian professors, they would have to move the school to Moscow. Personally I like the gowns from the University of Zambia, and from some in Quebec, as well as from Europe.

I didn't need to squelch the "WOOOO!" I was only afraid that Lois would do it! It was a good day, and we are very proud of Vaughn. Thank you for bringing Dad up, and for joining us as well.

Anonymous said...

What an accomplishment for your nephew and how neat that your dad got to be there!

I'll save those papers to read later. (cough cough.)