Saturday, May 5, I was proud to receive my Master of Liberal Studies degree at the U. I was even prouder that several close friends attended and cheered me on. (Audience members, friends, and family were invited to shout out, and the full house at Ted Mann Concert Hall was in excellent voice.)
Mohammed Musani of the Inter-College Program gave an excellent Student Address in which he praised not only the concern and attention of the faculty, but the importance of family and friends to the final success of all the degree candidates gathered that morning.
I thought of my own network of friends, ranging from those I see personally and frequently to those in Amsterdam, California, Boston, Alabama, and Fiji who have listened patiently to my moans and complaints, spurred me to keep going, and cheered at my victory–after all, it’s been 49 years since my first degree.
But I also thought of the importance of rites of passage, how they tie one to community or clan, how a person becomes a person through celebrating coming-of-age rituals, and marriages, being formally inducted into the group.
Inclusion is the very thing that so many are working so hard to deny members of our community, our city, our state, and our country. My commencement offered a lens through which to focus the importance of ceremony and acceptance, to see how healing continues to be an impossibility as long as individuals for whatever reasons are blocked from full participation in citizenship.
How many of the young–and less than young–graduates left the hall that morning with a fresh diploma but no legal rights to marry and start a life with the person they love? How many may already be partnered to a same-sex spouse and are not privy to the 1,100-some rights held by legally married heterosexual couples?
We’re nearly half way through 2012, and, come November, the state ballot will have us vote on whether or not to inscribe discrimination into the state constitution. Gays already cannot legally wed–will we announce our continued bigotry and intention to stand by it? Gay children will to be born to Minnesotans. Is a truncated set of civil liberties to be Minnesota’s gift to future graduates?