For eight years, I was in charge of the graduation ceremony at Warren Wilson College. Today, I return to view it as a spectator, fulfilling a promise to several dear friends of mine who will be walking across the stage to claim well-earned diplomas.In celebration, I reach back to a post that is almost precisely ten years old. In my former online home, the work week regularly ended with a feature called “Five for Friday,” in which I listed a quintet of songs that suited a specific prompt, inviting folks to “please play along” and contribute their personal choices. This is the entry I came up with to speak to another college commencement. I’ve gone ahead and added a few hyperlinks this time around.
Five Songs That Would Be Highly Preferable to “Pomp and Circumstance” At A Graduation Ceremony
1. Concrete Blonde, “Everybody Knows.” “Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost/ Everybody knows the fight was fixed/ The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/ That’s how it goes/ Everybody knows.” Since one of the things you want to do at graduation is offer a final lesson intended to impart all that necessary, commonly held knowledge that might have slipped through the cracks previously. Cohen’s lyrics will handle that task nicely. I prefer Johnette Napolitano’s anguished cries to Mr. Cohen’s monotone recitations, so the cover wins out for me. And the cool kids can play “name the movie” during the processional. Talk hard. Steal the air.
2. R.E.M., “Cuyahoga.” “Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up/ Our father’s father’s father tried, erased the parts he didn’t like” seems a pretty fitting way to start a song for people expected to forge forward and become the leaders of tomorrow. On the reflective side of things, the chorus holds a decent metaphor for reviewing the previous four years: “This is where we walked, this is where we swam/ Take a picture here, take a souvenir.”
And she said, “Roll out and make your mark. Pull on your boots and march.
Then roll on and meet me where you’ll find me doing my own part.
Roll out your dented car. Maybe it won’t roll far.
But if you do everything you can, well babe, that’s more than a start.
Roll out and make your mark. Pull on your boots and march.
Then roll on and meet me where you’ll find me good and ready.
Sometimes it’s gonna hurt. Sometimes you’re gonna deserve it.
But if you hold on to what you’ve got, I know you’ll keep it steady.
So there’s no end to work, so there’s no end to the murk.
So everything else is dirt, but I am pure and steady.
So cut out the morbid verse. I know you’ll make it work.
And how’re you gonna save the world, when the world ain’t ready?”
4. Arcade Fire, “Wake Up.” “Children wake up/ Hold your mistake up/ Before they turn the summer into dust/ If the children don’t grow up/ Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up/ We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to rust.” There’s some good advice in there, and the song has a guitar-driven majesty that would help it hold up to the stuffiness of a graduation ceremony.
5. The Godfathers, “Birth, School, Work, Death.” Cuz you got the first two licked.