other countries’ ceremonies
We don’t really celebrate graduations en masse in Norway, well, except PhD graduations, I suppose, so last week I was astonished to hear Pomp and Circumstance played as the graduates walked in (the most familiar part of the melody on repeat) and found myself confused, even wondering whether that could be the Star Spangled Banner and I’d just forgotten the tune, but why then the words in my head: Land of hope and glory, kingdom of the free? What strange irony for a song about a kingdom where the sun never sets to be played at an American graduation ceremony.
My favourite part of the ceremony, was watching the parents and cousins and siblings and grandparents standing up as the graduates poured into the many seats provided for them, peering to see their young ones, some yelling out names, many waving, and the graduates themselves responding by craning their necks, waving back, proud grins visible even from my distant seat.
The first speech was by a faculty member who was British. He spoke about how strange it was for him to hear such an English song reappropriate for American graduations, and said how proud Elgar would have been to hear his music played at such an occasion, its audience completely unaware of the imperialistic words added to it after Elgar wrote it, words that any British (and if I’m representative, Australian-Norwegian) listener could not help but hear listening to that music even today. Elgar hated those words, apparently. The speaker, I think, managed to say everything about his own opinions of empires, hopefully without going so far as to offend parents who no doubt wanted a celebration of their children rather than political statements.
The best thing about immersing myself in other cultures is that my own prejudices become visible to me. Some I’ll keep, others I’ll reconsider, but not taking things for granted is always of value. Things don’t mean the same thing everywhere.
[Correction: I’d written Edgar, and of course, as Mark points out in his comments, it’s Elgar. Oops! I corrected it.]