Graduation ceremonies mo' bettah in digital age


POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

Commencement season is upon us, and for Digital Slobs that usually means one of two things:

1) Nothing.

2) Secretly nothing—but we have to go, anyway.

Yet, thanks in no small measure to advances in smart phones and 3G networks, I just went to the best graduation ceremony of my life—a bold statement when you consider the dozens I've been to.

My previous favorite was my grad school ceremony in 1992—followed closely by my dog's convocation from obedience school in 1995. (Roughly five weeks after I came home to find she had ripped all the white, Styrofoam stuffing out of my beanbag chair, turning my living room into the final scene from “;Scarface.”;)

So, as you can see, those were tough acts to follow.

But for the first time, as my wife got her master's degree in business administration last week, the planets lined up just right. All I could think was, “;I'm so proud.”; That, and, “;So, does the six-month grace period to pay back the loan begin when she shakes the dean's hand, or ...?”;

Obviously, I had some skin in the game. I don't think it's a crime to admit I helped a bit along the way. I might not know what “;fiduciary”; means, but I can spell it, pronounce it and Google it like nobody's business. Sprinkle in a few “;maximizing synergies”; and “;countermanding redundancies,”; and you're halfway down a double-spaced homework assignment.

But back to the big day. We were able to avoid parking hassles by walking to the event. I wouldn't go so far as to say that we chose her institution of higher learning based on how close we lived to its ultimate finish line, because that would be untrue—or at the very least not the kind of truth you'd ever admit to in public.

Also, we didn't go overboard lugging around recording devices: Only an iPhone for me, and a midrange 5-megapixel Casio digital camera for her. She wanted to do a little gonzo journalism deep in the tassel trenches.

This was fine. Though infinitely better than my iPhone's camera, even the Casio can't produce decent shots from the barricade they always erect between the conferees and their Balkanized cheering squads.

But this is not to say my iPhone was useless—on the contrary. It was an oasis during a seemingly endless labyrinth of speeches.

Let me be clear, I have nothing but respect for valedictorians. Not only do they typically get straight A's while simultaneously donating bone marrow to their cousins and Twittering cures for athlete's foot that are only 140 characters long, they also have to write that speech—one final homework assignment that everyone else tested out of (by occasionally getting an answer or two wrong on a test).

So if I can't empathize with a series of inspirational 21-year-old geniuses who'll no doubt invent the machines that keep me alive in 20 years, we can probably assume the problem rests on my end.

What I could do, however, was use my iPhone to text-message my family five time zones away, and stream live video of the ceremony via Qik.com. But then, the chancellor announced the school was already streaming it all much more professionally on the Web, while infuriatingly omitting the Web address. So I used the iPhone's browser to check the school's home page. Still, nothing.

Then, in a just-short-of-valedictory flash of genius, I tapped my Tweetie app and searched for real-time tweets about the school on Twitter. Sure enough, just minutes prior someone posted a link to the mystery video stream. I forwarded it to my sister, and suddenly the event was an extended-family affair, minus the huge airfares and shortage of clean towels.

Not to be immodest, but I think all my Digital Age quick thinking deserves an accolade of some kind. For those so inclined, let it be known I'm willing to accept any honorary degree that's within walking distance.


Follow columnist Curt Brandao's Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/digitalslob.