- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

It is that time of year again. Somewhere, somehow, 8 million eager college students are marching, have marched or will march across a wide stage, stepping to the snappy beat of Mendelssohn’s “Priest’s March From Athalia.” Graduation gowns aflap and mortarboards askew, they head for that singular moment when the hard-earned diploma looms — while parents weep, lapse into a fugue state or possibly dream of the perfect martini. The very last of the precious college moments is ebbing away.

Why look. That girl over there received a bachelor’s degree in aberrant fashion psychology with a minor in purses. Oh, and that young man has his master’s in global warming. Hurray.

College graduations are a rite of passage with distinct characteristics. Imagine. Fidgeting families await. Launching into the 16th chorus of Mendelssohn, the college band is verging on anarchy. Horns blare, and someone is playing a sly chorus of “Innagaddadavida” over in the piccolo section.

Academic royalty wanders in: A bunch of old guys lollygag by the dais in their graduation day regalia, sporting eight-sided doctoral caps that look like boudoir pillows and rallying around a university mace that resembles a gilded rolling pin. The commencement speaker struts about; parents are unsure if it is Bill Clinton, Bruce Willis or a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Then, it’s the moment of truth. The living, breathing graduates make their entrance; camera flashes sparkle in all directions like timed fireworks. Applause breaks out. A certain pandemonium ensues as parents spring to their feet, jockey for position and seek their offspring in the shifting seas. Invariably, several brilliant children have affixed “Hi Mom” in duct tape to the tops of their flat caps.

At last, just as the band is about to explode, there is the magic nanosecond that makes the $140,000 that dad spent over the past four years worth it: the diploma exchange. Yikes. Heavens. Little Janie is already mounting the stairs and bearing down on the university president, her sage green tassel from the department of aberrant fashion bobbing above a freshly plucked eyebrow.

Quick, give me the camera, honey. Little Janie’s getting her degree. Now. This is it. Oh. Oh. Just think, she has a bachelor’s in aberrant fashion psychology with a minor in purses. Isn’t that incredible? Honey? Honey?

Honey may not be conscious at this point. But hey, Janie got through school.

All of us here at the Been There and Done That Desk solemnly applaud every parent and guardian who got some young person through some form of college, whether it was Harvard University or the Howdy Doody Institute. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. On that snippy note, we will point out that though commencement exercises are relatively unchanged, degrees themselves have become, well, all-encompassing.

Back when Connie Francis and Yvette Mimieux were crying their way through the 1960 movie “Where the Boys Are,” a collegiate hair-raiser if there ever was one, Americans affectionately joked about giant football players who got degrees in basket-weaving. Yeah, well. Things have gotten way more interesting than that.

Ohio’s Hocking College, for example, offers associate’s degrees in wilderness horsemanship with special credits in horseshoeing and equine behavior. Well, somebody has to keep the horses shod and psychologically centered. Duquesne University offers a nice master’s degree in sports leadership, while Green Mountain College can confer a bachelor’s degree in adventure recreation.

The University of Southern California, Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Central Florida and 100 other American universities offer both undergraduate and master’s degrees in video game design — as in joysticks and 3-D platforms.

Practical parents, take heed. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that a degree in pharmacology is the most lucrative college degree for Junior to pursue, with an average starting salary of more than $80,000 a year.

Virginia-based Young America’s Foundation, meanwhile, compiles an annual list of the weirdest or most politically correct college courses for students who perhaps want to opt out of basket-weaving. This year’s offerings include a class in Mail Order Brides at Johns Hopkins University, Amherst College’s Taking Karl Marx Seriously: Should Marx Be Given Another Chance? plus Swarthmore College’s Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism, Hollins University’s Lesbian Pulp Fiction and the University of Pennsylvania’s ever-popular Adultery Novel.

The course description for the final entry includes the following, “Students will apply various critical approaches in order to place adultery into its aesthetic, social and cultural context, including: sociological descriptions of modernity, Marxist examinations of family as a social and economic institution, Freudian/psychoanalytic interpretations of family life and transgressive sexuality, and feminist work on the construction of gender.”

Surely that would earn credits toward that coveted minor in purses.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and eight-sided hats for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at jharper@ washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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