“For Crying Out Loud” is the title of today’s Washington Post express cover story. It’s about enforcing silence or moderate applause at commencement exercises. One South Carolina mother had shouted, “Yay, my baby made it, yes!” For this, she was taken from the stands and arrested for disorderly conduct. She spent hours in jail and paid a $225 bond. Her graduating daughter cried at the sight of her mother getting into a police van. Four Ohio seniors were denied their diplomas until they completed 20 hours of community service, again because their guests had cheered too loudly. In both cases, school officials had asked the audiences to refrain from exuberant cheering.
Imposing penalties, which include criminal charges, for celebrating too loudly at commencement is going too far. In a time when academic achievement is more valuable considering our country’s economic situation, friends and families should celebrate enthusiastically and school administrators should take a more light-hearted and understanding approach to loud cheers.
Ceremony officials say over-doing cheers distracts from other graduates’ names being heard when called. Well, here’s one idea: wait. Wait until the cheering has died down; cheering usually ends as soon as the previous student has cleared the stage. Waiting for the audience is a common practice in live theatre and for television programs taped before live studio audiences.
The request for silence happens at Montgomery College, too, not at commencement but at the end of year awards ceremony. Every year the master of ceremonies asks the audience to wait until all the names for a department have been called before guests can give their applause, and every year the audience falters. A name is called and applause erupts, and the MC wags a finger, reprimanding us that clapping at each name is wrong to do. What a downer. Another name is called and some sheepish claps can be heard, and the audience grows confused at the “rule” being stated again, and probably even embarrassed at the possibility of another verbal hand slap. The request is meant to keep the ceremony going so it can end in a timely fashion, officials say, but I’ll bet the repeated reminders and “no-nos” take up valuable time that could be better spent celebrating.
At this year’s awards ceremony, one of our faculty spoke (discreetly) against the silly rule and the event proceeded with happy cheers from a proud and relaxed crowd. After all, who doesn’t deserve applause and recognition more than students who worked hard to achieve higher standards than most?
I know, I know, at some ceremonies, those blow horns that are typically heard at soccer matches are loud, annoying, painful, and definitely out of place. Ban those. Confiscate them at the door or gate and let it be known the horns can be picked up on the way out. But don’t ban exuberant cheering.
Banning and penalising lengthy and loud applause sours what is meant to be a joyous occasion. Chances are the family celebrating the loudest are the proudest of a student who may have struggled or who may have worked extra hard to reach this goal. Why take away a moment that inspires them to follow in the footsteps of the graduate? Arresting parents and withholding diplomas are cruel and humiliating extreme measures that will make for associating those schools with sad memories. Simply waiting a few moments while the audience’s cheers quiet down before calling the next name and banning blow horns or other instruments can help reduce noise and will likely not rub the audience in a negative way. Also, it is doubtful that anyone will complain that a special ceremony such as commencement “went too long”. If saving time is an issue, administrators should consider that it’s often the speeches that are considered boring and too long, not the calling of names — that’s the moment guests have been waiting for. It also helps that administrators take a light-hearted, more understanding attitude. After all, aren’t completion and academic achievement objectives administrators and teachers deem worth celebrating, too?