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What the heck is a mortar board anyway?


Though ceremonies will still not take on pre-pandemic levels of normalcy, there will be forms of in-person graduations this year.

Between various trade schools, high schools, Doña Ana Community College, New Mexico State University and Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, there will be as many as 3,000 people in our county earning degrees this month.

Despite the common tradition and celebration, every graduate has a unique story.

Each diploma is viewed with a different perspective, even within a graduate’s own family.

Here are some of the ways we look at graduation.

  • Student’s perspective: These can range from a bored, cynical high school student (“This stuff is so stupid. Why do I have to wear this horrible-looking gown?”) to a tearful college graduate who has worked and sweated and earned not only a degree but, in many cases, a substantial job offer (“I can’t believe I finally did it! I’ve made it in the world!”). Some students can’t wait to get through and gone from school. Many will suffer the sadness of missing their close friends.
  • Grandparents’ perspective: Many grandparents are deeply involved in the raising of their grandchildren. There are others who live hundreds of miles away. And there are many who, while not actively raising them, happily get to see the grandkids often. Each one has a different reaction to their graduate. For those who may be watching their family’s first college graduate, there’s a special pride.
  • Younger sibling’s perspective: Depending on how much younger, the sibling might spend graduation squirming around on the floor, bored or possibly inspired by their brother or sister’s accomplishments.
  • Older sibling’s perspective: Again, age affects this, but most older siblings feel a sense of pride, regardless of how annoying the graduate had been as a little kid.
  • Friends’ perspective: For friends who are graduating together, there is euphoria. They aren’t actively talking about their accomplishments, but are just happy to be together in a time of fun and pressure relief. For friends who either have already graduated or yet to graduate, it can either be a sense of pride, or a sense of “How long is this thing going to last? I’m ready to get to the dinner.”
  • Parents’ friends’ perspective: When your friends’ children graduate, it’s especially cool. In many cases, you’ve watched these kids grow up. You don’t have any of the big responsibilities, but you can pitch in by getting the graduate a gift or a check. Sometimes a friend will have to calm the parents down if they get too nervous or excited.
  • Parents’ perspective: Let’s face it. These ceremonies are primarily for the parents. And, in most cases, the event is not about the academic achievement. It’s the milestone of a marking of life. Just as you remember your child’s first steps, that first day of kindergarten, the day they get their driver’s license, you’ll remember their graduation. It’s a key marker on their way to adulthood, and a marker on your own life. There are tears of joy and pride, but also tears of sadness. Each step across that graduation stage is one step closer to your child being independent of your care and guidance.

As a parent of one of those graduating high schoolers this year, I feel every one of those emotions. However, let me end on a sobering but practical note.

One of the worst news stories any newspaper person ever has to publish is the one about a new graduate who died in an alcohol- or drug-related car crash. Please. Please, do everything in your power to help avoid one of these tragedies here in the Mesilla Valley. Hire an Uber, be a designated driver, or just take away someone’s car keys. Whatever it takes, let’s keep our graduates safe. 

P.S. According to Wikipedia, The square academic cap, graduate cap, cap, mortarboard (because of its similarity in appearance to the mortarboard used by brickmasons to hold mortar) or Oxford cap, is an item of academic dress consisting of a horizontal square board fixed upon a skull-cap, with a tassel attached to the center.

Richard Coltharp