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For students all across the world, years of study culminate in a perfunctory ritual known as “graduation”. After three years of napping at Victoria’s Te Aro campus, it was my turn to partake in the tradition, and along with hundreds of other graduands, we flooded into the Michael Fowler Centre on the evening of 13 May.
Things started awkwardly late; after fifteen minutes of shuffling around (with a notable absence of trailers to keep the audience entertained), us graduands finally filed into the hall to catch the end of the haka. This was followed by the national anthem, which I had not sung since high school. I was glad that the awkward gap between the Māori and English verses still existed.
With the opening credits out of the way, the first act of the night made its way onto the stage. It was an old white guy that I have never seen in my life, but I am guessing has some sort of important role at the University. He proceeded to give a speech in which he kept hammering on about Victoria being in the top 4 per cent of universities in the world, which was very clever on his part as that sounds much nicer than 275th in the world. His performance also included an attempted runway walk, which was funny because men don’t normally do that sort of thing—ha ha ha!
Personally, I found the first act very hard to follow—it seemed that we were all gathered here for some sort of congratulatory event regarding the past few years at university. I was not sure what we were being congratulated on. A montage played in my mind of the past three years—falling asleep at my desk… falling asleep in lectures… asleep in bed instead of being in class… and when actually awake, always looking confused… It could only be that I was being congratulated upon the fluke that has been my academic career thus far.
To add to my confusion, a horde of characters were hurriedly introduced, and though all were different actors, each played out an identical performance of walking across the stage, shaking hands with the old white guy and then sitting back down again. This was accompanied by undirected, but widespread, audience participation in which everyone smashed their hands together to make a sort of noise.
This repetitive series of performances went on for some time, and was immensely boring, so I was relieved when the first musical act of the night was introduced. Sticking to a local cast, a jazz group from the New Zealand School of Music began playing. The music was pleasant, though at one point the jazz singer tried to comb his fingers through his hair but his hair was too short, which made me think about how 100 per cent of my exes complained about their thinning hair and then I momentarily thought about death.
I thought of a multitude of options for comic relief—not shaking his hand and going “sike” instead, having a pig walk across the stage for me, or loudly asking for my tens of thousands of dollars back.
After the musical memento mori, the previous performance continued, still with different actors (where did they get all these people from?). The routine briefly deviated when one actor took out his phone and took a selfie after shaking hands, at which the audience erupted into loud laughter and applause as if they had just seen a smartphone for the first time in their lives. I groaned loudly and thought of a multitude of better options for comic relief—not shaking his hand and going “sike” instead, having a pig walk across the stage for me, or loudly asking for my tens of thousands of dollars back.
Once the audience settled back down, I found myself being directed to stand up and follow the line of my classmates onto the stage. The fourth wall was being broken! Soon my name was announced and I felt very bemused as the audience also smashed their hands together for me as I, too, shook the old white guy’s hand. Continuing the theme of the night, my time on stage felt like a very unnecessary gesture and I felt my facial expression adjust to this (which, to my mother’s disappointment, the photos would later prove).
I sat back down to conclude my performance, though not before receiving a take-home prop, a piece of paper in a folder, which I will most likely misplace in the very near future. Then, the second musical act—a trombone quartet, introduced as music students “specialising in trombone”. Jealousy surged through me—how I wish I could have a Bachelor of Architectural Studies specialising in Trombone… The quartet then began to play and I found myself caught completely unaware as the most beautiful music flooded the theatre. It was divinely smooth, like melted butter being poured into my ears and I felt like crying. I watched as the shiny gold instruments erotically dance up and down in the talented hands of the four musicians and I am mesmerised, finally understanding paraphilia. I watched the faces of the musicians as they do a pufferfish-like thing, if pufferfish were suave and incredibly attractive. As they finish, I smash my hands together with extra force and wonder why there aren’t more trombone boy bands.
We then had to sit through even more of the same performance—walking, shaking hands, more walking—and as boredom reigns, I begin to mentally play “fuck, marry, kill” with each person walking across the stage. Kill, kill, kill, kill. I hear the voices of friends telling me that I am too romantically picky. Kill, kill, kill, kill. At this point in the evening it is also interesting to note a change in costume, from orange hoods to blue ones, denoting a change in faculty. I believe this was done to raise an obvious question—who would win in a fight, an architecture student or a law student? To everyone’s disappointment, this was left unanswered.
The penultimate act of the night was, to my excitement, a magic act! It consisted of a fellow classmate presenting a speech to the packed out theatre, without melting into a puddle of fear. There was barely even a mumble, nor sweat to be seen—truly, truly impressive—and I still have no idea how she could have done it. Watch out, David Blaine.
Finally, the evening ended with “the” graduation song, which to my surprise and confusion was not the one by Vitamin C. Instead, an old stuffy Latin number was chosen, and for plebs who are not fluent in Latin (tonay emay foay oursecay), it was titled something that could have been mistaken for “Grainy Anus”, with lyrics that could have sounded like “no hummus, no hummus”.
Overall, the evening did not live up to the hype, nor the minimum three-year waiting list and gross ticket prices that began at $30,000. It also fared poorly in terms of entertainment, with poor plot development, confusing motives, and far too many characters to keep track of. Because of this I spent most of the night wishing that I was at home watching Gilmore Girls in bed, but then again, I am always wishing I was at home watching Gilmore Girls in bed.