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On Commencements

State of the Union: Gaudeamus igitur.
Harvard University Campus
(Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

There are few things so tedious as people bloviating about their almae matres. Yet it’s an inevitability, especially in our disproportionately college-educated and self-involved imperial capital, that you’ll find yourself on your third beer, looking for the bar’s exit, but unable to extricate yourself from the grasp of someone who still thinks his doings in the Northwestern student government were on par with the Barons’ War—who in fact will join you outside for a cigarette, oh, you’re walking to the Metro, well, he ought to be getting home too, and on the way he can tell you about the best part about the student fee dispute of 2011. It’s like jury duty—it could happen to you.

But like jury duty, other people’s affections for their own institutions, although unpleasant to encounter, provide a necessary prop for our public life. The universities in particular—for all their multiform and heinous sins—are one of our few remaining sets of public institutions whose forms are more ancient than our state. 


I didn’t especially enjoy my years in academic tutelage. Yet they did leave their mark on me; I even got something resembling an education. Today my university holds its commencement. Floreat Alma Mater.