Monday, June 18, 2007

10,000 Balloons

A sea of people already fills seats throughout the basketball stadium, half an hour before the ceremony begins. Shades of maroon and gold mark sections filled with new graduates, as their loved ones create a cacophony of color and style nearby. Each person wonders where four, or five, or six years of study has gone - how it has come to an end in the blink of an eye.

Thousands of balloons shift in a secure net, high above the crowd, awaiting the final congratulatory comment and student processional into the ‘real world.’ Large video screens spring to life, as Arizona State University’s president introduces esteemed colleagues and guests that share the stage. We gaze at Jessica, whose fuchsia floral lei makes it easier to find her amidst the throngs, hold each other’s hand for a moment and grin, before returning our attention to the festivities.

Two hours pass with amazing speed, despite the 6,000+ graduates on the floor. After the speeches, masters and doctoral candidates, and a handful of distinguished undergraduates cross the stage to receive their diplomas. The president then congratulates students from each department of study within the university, and they stand together as they celebrate ends and beginnings.

A maroon and gold cloud rains down on the graduates as the overhead net drops. The crowd disperses into scorching heat, hundreds of hugs, and a flurry of photographs.