Saturday, May 22, 2010

Graduation Day: What Took You So Long?

PhD doctoral hood for different universities a...

It must be like having sympathy labor pains. Some guys get them when their female partners are close to delivery. This is psychosomatic, of course, the brain creating the sensation of cramping under the influence of a profoundly psychological motivation. The intimate connection between mother-to-be and her male partner becomes incarnate in a mutual physical experience. I think it's really quite wonderful when it happens.

This morning, I'd planned on being asleep at 5:30 and finally gave up the ghost and climbed out a few minutes after 6:00. At first, I thought it was because I was anxious to get a head start on the day and then I remembered. My incoming class has the first of two graduation ceremonies at 9:30 -- their alarms were probably set to go off right about now. Whatever wag said my class goes through medical school as though joined at the hip, got it exactly right.

I know it sounds unusual to have two ceremonies, so let me explain. The first is for the entire university, and while this is something new for us this year, I'm told it's pretty common elsewhere. The second is the one we care most about, when hoods are placed on our gowns symbolizing the doctoral degree, and we take the Osteopathic Oath, formally becoming osteopathic physicians. This is the point at which parents get out the tissues.

It's traditional for hooding to be done by someone who is either a physician or has a doctoral degree, representing the "passing on of the mantle" of responsibility. I've seen physician-siblings and parents in this role as well as professors who've been instrumental in one's career. Two years from today, my best friend, an MD psychiatrist, will do the honors, along with many others present in spirit.

There is a sense in which all of this is anticlimactic, because, although my classmates will be licensed physicians, they can't simply hang out a shingle reading, "Open for Business." I've heard it said jokingly, we give you a degree but we won't let you do anything with it until you've completed residency, or at least not without supervision. But the degree is their admission ticket to residency and from my own experience with residents, this is when the real fun begins.

You know, I've been an usher for two previous graduations and this will be my third, but I've never before had the feeling that one of them was mine. This morning I feel that way. It's as though, being a part of this incredible group of people, I'm crossing the threshold of a vast room -- a spiritual space, if you will -- the length of which will take two years to traverse. At the other end is a tiny, intensely bright light -- so bright I can barely look at it without squinting -- and when I reach it, my friends will be there, not a single one of them asking, "What took you so long?"

(Public Domain image via Wikipedia)
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