This weekend I shared the fantastic surreal experience of college graduation with my family. For weeks my son in law, who was receiving a Masters degree, had said he was not going to walk. As the date grew near, he changed his mind just in time to order his robe, hood and cap.
Brian is a practical sort, and had little use for the multicolored hood and strange flat hat. However he listened patiently as I explained that it was a communal rite of passage that would never happen again. When he rolled his eyes, I cut to the chase, and enlightened him that it was mostly for his parents. I helped him adjust his hood correctly and explained that the outer colors represented his university and the inner colors represented his college, in this case, agriculture. He would be joining the ranks of centuries of scholars donning the colored robes of academia. Echo, his wife, my daughter, came in and out in a flurry, getting ready. When she returned, I mentioned something to which I thought she could relate.
Our family has been to England, specifically Oxford and Cambridge. There we visited the ivy clad walls of King's College and punted on the river Cam, floating under the bridge of sighs. We were told the bridge connected dormitories to the great exam hall, thus explaining its name. In the main exam hall, we all felt as though we had been there before. It was darkly paneled room, with grand weathered wooden table running it's length. High on the walls were portraits of ancient robed scholars. Robed ! Of course. In those days, all students wore robes as they attended school. Their robes were plain, and as they advanced, graduated and attained various honors, their regalia increased, with tassels hoods and caps. Our tour guide explained that the room had served as the model for the great hall in Hogwarts. No wonder we felt at home.
Back in bozeman I decided to fall short of telling Brian that he was becoming a wizard. Even a good mother in law is indulged only so much. True enough, his robes heartened back to the academic robes of old England, in a world where education may as well have been magic, the purview of an elite few, and requisite for power.
I raised my kids in a melange of academics, science, fiction and fantasy. Thus I knew Echo would appreciate my reference back to the academic vestments of old. I knew too that in Marvel's fictional world of Asgard, Odin was right, saying that which we called magic was really just more advanced science.
And so the day saw Brian invested with his Masters degree. We listened to several addresses, each of which was surprisingly illuminating, intense or touching in turn. The graduates were given their diplomas, charged with their rights and responsibilities and we adjourned. But sure enough, the Professors had done their magic and a a spell had been cast. Brian would go home with a good job waiting for him. He would also leave with and enlarged affection for science and the near magical ability to conduct research.
After the ceremonies, we returned to have an open house and pack. And pack and pack. Though we were returning to the mundane, here was no denying that a transition had been crossed. We could all feel the surreal quality of the transition from one phase of life to another. Time and memory were in sharp focus and set apart. We were all transformed a bit, in this magical circumstance.