The June sun presided over an outdoor commencement. Perspiration crept along hairlines.
The college president was Kenyan, the keynote speaker was from Iran, the flowers were Hawaiian.
Among the grad-crazed families sat a single Russian spy. His beloved princess was graduating magna cum laude today with a degree in Political Science and another in Chemistry. He set aside his routine of espionage to sit in the anonymous audience of hundreds. He never perspired; not even when carrying bits of high-tech radically engineered weapons information for the Kremlin. Today he was travelling light.
Just passing through.
The devilishly alluring man in the impeccable Brioni suit and dark glasses moved casually to a seat nearby as the ceremony began.
Queue the James Bond theme song.
In the long line of flowing black robes, Natasha is announced. She walks across the stage to receive her diploma. Women shriek, balloons escape skyward.
Only when the crowds clear the field, hours later, does anyone notice the body slumped in the chair.
Covered by an air horn blast and surrounded by parents straining into the sunlight to see a glimpse of their own prodigies, the elimination went undetected.
James Bond fades into the background.
I can’t stand the boredom of ceremonies. I just can’t. Society dictates that a person has not graduated, married, given birth, or died, unless a party has been properly thrown over it, money spent on it, and particular traditions carried out in his honor. It must involve vast quantities of food.
But first and foremost, you must stand witness to the event.
Even if you’re a Russian spy.
If I had spare time I would spend it reading a good book, sleeping, or daydreaming about 007.
During my daughter’s graduation, I did all three.
I’m fairly certain no one noticed.
There are approximately 300 graduates to run the gauntlet. The first string comes through and random clusters of family members clap and cheer politely. Until the second row, fifth grad in, when his family decides to jump up, blasting air horns, and shriek at the top of their lungs.
We levitated for a moment over our seats.
We will never know who the sixth grad was.
Once my hearing returned, it was much too late to send them harsh looks of admonishment because, by George, every other family decided they would not be upstaged or (heaven forbid) their own child feel less loved due their lack of vocal enthusiasm.
Nothing is more irritating than having your nap interrupted by women clearly having liposuction without anesthesia. There were shrieks of agony from all corners of the audience and I looked everywhere for the mass murderer.
Sometimes the men would attempt the same decibels in a lower octave and it only managed to sound like they were about to take the warpath. Or they’d had a kneecap busted. Or maybe they’d just seen the VISA bill for the after-party.
After a while I was feeling sorry for the grads with polite parents, but I would find myself looking up from Pride & Prejudice wishing the sudden silence would last longer than three names.
I heard a whistle once, but instead of the police coming to arrest obnoxious guests, it was a mom who wasn’t about to sacrifice her tonsils to the cause but needed to make sure her presence was acknowledged.
At the end of the ceremony, we were all told very specifically how to exit the field and where to meet our grads. I held onto my chair and braced. The very moment tassels turned, the audience surged like a tsunami and met the incoming wave of grads, crashing together in a mindless smash-up of humanity.
Our family had the back of the stadium to ourselves as we hugged and smiled and snapped a couple of photos.
We casually strolled to the cars, drove home without a trace of traffic, and yes, had a wonderful after-party full of family, friends and fun.
Far be it from me to defy the tradition of ages.
If I noticed the solitary man in the tailored suit and dark glasses, a wry half-smile on his face, I certainly didn’t make eye contact.