At ease: there is no such thing as the “graduation selfie ban.”
Several media outlets reported on new policies at the University of South Florida and Bryant University with inflammatory headlines like “USF to graduates: No more selfies” or “Colleges Move To Ban Selfie Taking At Graduation Ceremonies.”
The coverage reads like dispatches from the front lines a fake culture war, a catchy way of pretending that millennials are in a battle with our elders. As if every faculty member is thinking, “Young, rowdy college kids who can’t be bothered with decorum want to snap selfies during this momentous occasion, those entitled, selfish hooligans!” and all the graduates are saying, “Bitter, uptight old people hate everything that’s fun and new just because it’s more fun and new than they are!”
None of that is happening.
Bryant and USF’s instructions only tell graduates to refrain from taking selfies during the walk across the stage to get a diploma. And… that’s all.
That doesn’t mean no selfies during the procession. It doesn’t mean no selfies in your seat, or no selfies during the commencement address, or no selfies while you toss your mortarboard in the air. It means no selfies during the blink-and-you-miss-it time it takes a graduate to walk across the stage, shake the University President’s hand, and receive his or her diploma. That’s it. It’s a perfectly reasonable request.
Some context: According to Adam Freeman, USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator, about 5,000 diplomas will be conferred over USF graduation weekend. This breaks down to about 1,000 degrees per ceremony. “Our goal is to keep each of the five ceremonies to approximately 90 minutes and limit any disruptions on stage,” Freeman wrote via email.
“We’ve sent out a similar message in the past,” Freeman added by phone. “Very similar. The only difference this time is that the word “selfie” is in there.”
Really the only legitimate complaint with the so-called selfie ban is that it means the only photos graduates will be able to have of that hand-shaking diploma-getting moment is a professional one, a.k.a., one they have to pay for. (Something involving college costs money. Shocking, I know.) A representative from GradImages, USF’s vendor for graduation photos, said the photo packages vary in price from school to school and year to year, but the range typically starts at about $10 for a single 5×7 photograph and maxes out around $160 for a “mix and match” package. Not exactly highway robbery, if you stick to the lower end of the spectrum.
And as someone who has attended what feels like ten thousand graduation ceremonies (youngest child problems) I can say that I wish all universities kept these events to 90 minutes or less. Don’t get me wrong: I love graduations. I love the pomp and the circumstance, the regalia, the school spirit. Think about it: How many times in your life will you be marching in a parade that is thrown entirely for your benefit? With all of life’s sham, drudgery and broken dreams, with the setbacks and failures every human endures, how many moments of sheer success and joy and pride do you ever get to experience? As a user and sometime-abuser of slang, abbreviations and shorthand, I can only say that to hear the lofty language of degree conferral—“Whereas it is the ancient custom of academics to honor with a proper title those who are distinguished in sciences or arts, ”—is to be lifted up, for a heartbeat or two, to a grander place. You feel like you are part of something epic and important. And you are.
But, yeah, an hour and a half is more than enough time. You’re on a folding chair in a football field. Could be a swimming pool soon, with all the sweating-under-the-gown that’s happening. Let’s move this along.
These formal, milestone-marking events are as much about the person or people it’s purportedly honoring as it is about the people who got the honoree there. So who gets to set the tone? Whose taste, desires and goals get to rule the day? What is graduation really about, and who is it really for?
The truth is, it’s a compromise. A graduation ceremony that doesn’t respect the gravity of the accomplishment that is graduating from an institution of higher education is no graduation ceremony at all. And a graduation ceremony that takes five hours because everybody snaps a selfie would be even more terrible than the word “selfie,” which I think we can all agree is an embarrassing, juvenile-sounding thing that we hate.
I think everyone is going to be just fine with all the selfies they can take before and after that walk across the stage. The rest of the day can be filled with regular old photographs. Or, as Tom Haverford said on last night’s Parks and Rec: “A youie. That’s what I call selfies of other people.”