Spring 2011 Graduation: A Play
Assembled by Aus. McCann
Cast of characters:
Dr. Larry Richards
Snow Leopard Report: The School for Designing a Society recently held a Graduation Ceremony for its 2011 spring semester participants. This event was hosted at the Herbert Brün House and featured a keynote “un-speech” by Dr. Larry Richards. We ‘graduated’ the following participants at the ceremony: Snow Leopard, Camille Euritt, Christine Weaver, Carly Guierrero, Austin McCann, Carey Smith, Maggie Taylor, Andrew Heathwaite, Yael Beretta, Julianne Panagacos, Trevor Bristow, Mark Eslin, Melanie Hinojosa, Derek Busby, elizaBeth Simpson, Jerehme Bamberger, Susan Parenti, Will Adams, Maggie Wallace, Brook Celeste, Aba Kiser, Ya’aqov Ziso, Jacob Barton, Kim Olsen, Meadow Jones, and Zoe Yoo.
Larry Richards Wait a minute! That list includes the organizers/teachers at the School! Do you mean to say that they received diplomas as well?
Snow Leopard I do! They did!
Austin Participants arrived early to hang Italian lights outside, set up food and art exhibits using food, arrange chairs in the seating area, and generally convive before the event. We, you know, mingled! After a short cybernetics game in the garden, we took our seats so that the program might start.
Snow Leopard The program started with performances from individual participants and groups. There were readings, songs, critical semester reflections, and —
Austin Real quick: The microtonal class’s performance was amazing! Jacob referring to the “Goo-Gone of sound”; that bit where Mark was the caller of some microtonal, desirable country dance: “Now pretend there’s no countries! Everybody give the caller a hug! The caller needs a hug!”
Snow Leopard After the performances was Dr. Larry Richard’s keynote “un-speech,” followed by participant appreciations, and the requisite commencement-ceremony walk, complete with diplomas and underscored by “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Austin We all blinked, then graduation was upon us.
Aba I totally agree. The community that emerged from the intention to think and speak critically about systemic issues in our flailing culture was still just getting off the ground by the time graduation came around. It wasn’t clear what we were celebrating! Was it that we had just spent three months together, befriending and cherishing each other? Was it pride at our individual project seeds, which we watched germinate during the semester? Were we rejoicing in the mass confusion, nerves, and frustrations of the past three months which didn’t turn us against one another, but curiously brought us closer together?
Larry Richards Who’s to say?
Austin I’ve graduated from a few things in my life: college, elementary school, toilet training class … but this graduation was different, and not just because teachers received diplomas along with students. Graduation ceremonies usually mark the end of something, objectively, heralding the commencement of new, different things, an entrance into the “real world.” Like you were saying, Aba: what can be said for our ceremony, which came in the middle of our projects, establishment of community, comradely forging of human bonds, our understanding of cybernetics, &c. — what purpose does this false ending serve?
Snow Leopard Well, some participants are leaving Urbana.
Austin True. Some of our participants are leaving town to return to their colleges, hometowns, jobs hawking kettle corn at the state fair, or whatever. For those folks, some of whom may never return to work with us, the ceremony may mark the actual end of their participation with the School as a group.
Larry Richards But the traces …
Snow Leopard Let’s talk about the appreciations.
Aba The appreciations! Julianne, who organized graduation with Susan, randomly assigned each of us 2-3 other participants to appreciate in any way. Some wrote letters, others sang songs, some gave personal tokens as gifts. This honest, compassionate tribute took an an incredible variety of forms.
Snow Leopard Andrew played microtonal guitar, Austin played accordion, Julianne made a special beverage, Mark and Camille wrote these incredible poems …
Austin But there were appreciations that were straight-forward, too: “You helped me so much with [x], your friendship and guidance this semester meant so much to me, &c.”
Aba I had tears streaming down my face for most of it, between quietly appreciating the thoughtfulness of each speaker and laughing my ass off at the salty, sweet humor of our ensemble.
Larry Richards I hadn’t seen that many teary people in formal wear since McCain lost the election! Wakka-wakka!
Aba Each appreciation took time and effort. It seemed like we all wanted to honestly, critically acknowledge the person and their contributions as students and as friends.
Austin And we avoided cliches wherever possible.
Snow Leopard The performances showed range and depth. The appreciations showed range and depth. If I have one main complaint, it’s that (like those killer cream puffs) it took till the end of the semester to show up in such abundance.
Aba It was a blissful and revelatory ceremony that acknowledged the position of all of us as players within this vibrant and varying community. It was a treat to relax and acknowledge each other at the end of some of the most confusing and heartfelt months of my life.
Snow Leopard Graduation was a zoo of wonder where hearts and minds seemed better to conspire and work in union than elsewhere and when during the semester.
Larry Richards The traces! The traces!
Austin Yes, let’s talk about traces. We’ve been talking as a group about “life after SDaS.” Earlier in this conversation, I’d mentioned something about leaving Urbana as the effective end of SDaS participation. But that isn’t quite right, I think. We should be viewing the consequences of participation in terms of traces. This graduation ceremony might be the last moment we are all as living, breathing bodies in the same room together, but what of the traces of our work? I imagine that we’ll see identifiable projects popping up in Korea (courtesy of Zoe this spring, Sora last fall, countless other Korean students), Baltimore (Maggie), back at Evergreen State College (Trevor, Will, &c.). The School isn’t a summer camp, a place where you have some magical experience, then it’s over and your mom comes to pick you up. This project is a rigorous training in an experimental methodology for social change and as such requires a kind of intellectual, creative probing that can’t just be dropped once you’re back at your job, living with your parents, sellin’ that kettle corn, &c.
Snow Leopard So … do people leave?
Austin Look for the traces!
Larry Richards And never stop retarding the decay!