Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

My daughter Vanessa was awarded her Master of Public Health degree recently at a nice ceremony the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. She was part of a rather large group of MPH candidates, other health-related masters, and PhD and DPH recipients. It was noteworthy to me because she had worked very hard in an intensive one-year (eleven-month) program that effectively compacted two years of work into one. She also took even more of all the science courses her mother and I never went near.

The large complement of degree candidates did remind me of the late Georgetown President Father Healy's comment upon awarding 616 J.D. degrees to Eileen's class at Georgetown Law just a quarter-century ago, when he preceded his conferral of those degrees with the introductory "With fear and trembling for the future of Western civilization..."

I'm hoping she finds something she enjoys by way of work--even though the common parlance these days would have it that new graduates had better be satisfied with getting a job. Until proven otherwise, however, I have great confidence that with some application on her part, she will wind up with something she will enjoy as well as earn a paycheck. At a time when many also are questioning the value of much that is labeled higher education, it struck me that she did get reasonably good value for her year's investment at Hopkins. She threw herself into both her coursework and her required project work and I suspect made the most of the bargain of getting all this in one year.

She also enjoyed living in the Mt. Vernon section of downtown Baltimore and frequented some of the more interesting eating places and entertainment venues there. In honor of her getting her MPH, her friend Dave's birthday, and our 41st anniversary, we celebrated at Woodberry Kitchen, an excellent restaurant that focuses on locally-grown and natural ingredients, which has become common, of course, but also presents a varied and stimulating carte de jour. Best of all was a selection of four varieties of revived local Chesapeake Bay oysters followed (in my case) by perfectly-braised veal accompanied by farro and wild mushrooms. By the by, in case you're interested in who serves what I regard as the tastiest mussels in the area, I heartily recommend Granville Moore's, a old barely-renovated bar on the now-being-redeveloped H Street, N.E., near the Atlas Theater complex.

The commencement remarks by the incumbent Maryland Secretary of Health (and recently interim head of the Food and Drug Administration) were, most significantly, blessedly brief. I might have found the address at the overall Hopkins commencement the next day on Homewood Field, the university's lacrosse citadel, worth hearing as they were delivered by the editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria, who had written only days before an enlightening column on why Obama was right on about the Middle East. But mine was the only vote favoring attending the big ceremony, as it seems the MPH crowd figured they had all sat through both their own ceremony, and no more than a few years ago, their own undergraduate commencements.

In a strange sort of way I tend to like commencement ceremonies, despite the ludicrousness of much of the content. I sat through two of them at Cornell--for my graduation and Vanessa's-- where headline speakers are never on hand because the university generally grants no honorary degrees and the university's President delivers the commencement address. I can't say I recall much of either talk. I think this year's convocation speaker was Rudy Giuliani, whose shelf sell date has clearly expired.

I also missed my "second commencement"--from law school, mainly because I hurried back from Reserve basic training to complete my degree one semester late in January; I did get a copy of the program from that following June and I think the lead honorary degree was given, in Harvard's infinite wisdom, to the Shah of Iran. But probably my first introduction to the general zaniness of these occasions was when a more knowledgable (musically, that is) high school classmate mentioned to me that the recessional, Berlioz's Marche Hongroise (Hungarian March), being played at the end of our ceremony came from a scene in his now-more-often performed opera, Le Damnation de Faust, when the condemned march into Hell.

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