"Watch the shoes," my colleague whispered as we settled ourselves into our seats, no small process where robes, hats, and hoods have to be adjusted lest they fall off at comical angles. She was right.
At graduation, the students are, for the first time in four years, all dressed alike. In fact, they are dressed like us: we all move somewhat stiffly under the unfamiliar dignity of robes at first, marching self-consciously to "Pomp and Circumstance." It's easier for faculty to relax, because they've been to a lot of college graduations and the students haven't. Then the students stop worrying that their caps will fall off and start to relax, too.
So, at the risk of sounding like a bad comparison and contrast essay, we are the same, yet different. They're wearing the regalia, varied only by the leis, stoles, and honor cords that signify their membership in various communities, and they're all there because they've achieved something important, as the smiles on their parents' faces attest.
Yet (comparison and contrast transition alert!) they are all different, too, and they--at least the women--want to express this through their shoes, the only part of the wardrobe that they have a choice about showing to people. I saw a lot of fashionably high heels with very pointed toes, and even though the wearers didn't always look terribly steady in them (these were very high heels; I have a pair and can only mince along in mine), these suggested women who weren't afraid that they'd fall on their faces in front of several thousand strangers when they got their diplomas. I also saw boots, sandals, sneakers, and some well-beloved shoes that were only a step up from flip-flops. I was later told that choosing shoes is a big deal, since they know that the shoes are the only thing people can see.
Yes, I listened to the speakers, heard all the songs, and was duly proud of the students I knew. Maybe it's just sentimentality (and I freely admit to being moved by ceremonies, even as I try to avoid them), but somehow I liked the idea that they were making this effort to be part of something that cost them time and money, that celebrated what they'd done, and that on the face of it emphasized how they were the same but that they'd adapted to show, even if just by their shoes, that they're all different.