Unsettling the table

The moments of celebration and merrymaking for which convocation is responsible are so notable because they stick out from the daily routines  of graduates, students and parents alike. Distances are overcome to reunite for this rare moment of conclusion; convocation allows us not only to recognize graduates’ work, but also to emphasize the changes which many graduates will face in the months to come.

In many ways, what is true of convocation in general is true of the meals in which graduates and their families will partake. For one, the happy chaos of banquets, brunches, and finger-food galas are so dissimilar to the years of library snacks, hurried dinners, and 2 a.m. garlic-finger runs that characterize eating for an undergrad. But, these early weeks of May are also the time of on-the-road meals, inventive dinners to empty out fridges and pantries before big moves, and first dinners with new roommates. Against these moments of change, convocation gives us a chance to reflect on our time in Sackville by raising those final servings of Aramark-catered cheese cubes, Black Duck americanos, and Joey’s sangria to a ceremonious status.

Yet, for many friends, alumni, and perhaps even parents who haven’t seen Sackville since they dropped their kids off four or five years ago, the food scene might be unrecognizable. I wrote last fall about the profusion of dining options that have come to Sackville in the past couple of years—Song’s Chopsticks, the Coy Wolf, the Black Duck, Napul’è, and so on. With this new diversity, it’s almost guaranteed that some conversation will be had over dinner, where old friends will reminisce about Pickles’ sandwiches or the breakfasts at George’s Roadhouse and comment on the strangeness of the Painted Pony.

Of course, this is the complex beauty of celebrations like convocation: they weave together perceptions of memory and newness. As with birthdays, retirements, and memorials, graduation ceremonies make apparent what could otherwise go ignored: how much our lives change from the first day of class to the time of graduation. We reflect, in other words, on what it was like to have grown with our friends, our campus, and our town—including its food venues. Many will also remark on the changes yet to come and the uncertainty that accompanies any change. Reunions between old friends will be held five, 10, 15 years from now, but they will take place on a campus different than the one we know today, over meals at unfamiliar tables in new restaurants. But, these experiences all illustrate the beautiful ways we use food as a vehicle for memory and ritual; brunches, buffets, and dinners of celebration are moments of profound humanity. No matter how tired graduates might be of the ubiquitous Aramark cheese-and-fruit platter, it is nonetheless a part of how we celebrate, reflect on, and anticipate what it means to change.

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