It’s been a High Stepping week at Northern Essex Community College.
Last Saturday was NECC’s 53rd Annual Commencement exercises. It’s an occasion everyone on campus looks forward to—a celebration of our students’ accomplishments, a tribute to talented faculty and staff, a ceremony filled with grandeur, tradition, and, of course, footwear.
There’s a lot going on at graduation—bagpipers piping, professors processing, commencement speakers speechifying—but at the center of it all is the awarding of degrees to newly minted graduates.
While the students receiving those sheepskins have spent years preparing for them, and their families and friends, at the very least, have spent hours that morning traveling, waiting, and watching; the actual conferring of their degree takes, on average, a little less than five seconds.
That’s about how long it takes for their name to be called from the side of the stage, for them to walk two or three steps toward me, shake my hand, receive their degree, embossed with the college seal, have a quick picture taken, and continue walking across the stage and back to their seat.
Since everyone is dressed the same (black robe and cap, blue hood, and gold tassel), it can be hard to tell one proud grad from another—so many of them will do whatever it takes to set themselves apart from the crowd.
A couple years ago, I wrote a piece about the great variety of “Commencement Handshakes” that happen in that quick congratulatory moment, and how inventive students distinguish themselves with the “Paparazzi Pump” or the “Madmen Mash.”
But from the perspective of audience members sitting in folding chairs under that big white tent and looking up at the steady parade of pupils marching across the stage, one of the increasingly entertaining parts of commencement is what those graduates choose to wear on their feet, and what it might say about the futures that lie ahead for them.
Pumps: Elegant and stylish, business-like but with the potential for a little envelope-pushing fun, there are as many kinds of pumps in the world as there are feet to wear them—maybe more—and you can spot the whole line-up at commencement. From the modest (basic black, round toes and two-inch heel) to the daring (fire engine red, peep toes, and four inches off the ground), the perennially popular pump offers something for everyone, including future lawyers, financial planners, hospital CEOs, and pop stars.
High-Topped Sneakers: Nothing says casual classic like a pair of Chuck Taylor All Star high tops. They are the most iconic sneakers in the world, worn by celebrities from Justin Bieber to Jennifer Aniston to First Lady Michelle Obama. Also useful for making a fast dash to the parking lot after graduation to avoid the wait for dinner reservations. The grad sporting these cool kicks may be headed for a creative career in music, the arts, social media, or Internet marketing.
Flip-Flops: Everything else about your commencement wardrobe is so buttoned up and pressed down, you need some part of you to feel free, right? Well, when it comes to stretching out those arches and flexing your toes, you don’t get any freer—or funner—than flip-flops. Whether you emptied out your pocket change for a pair of rubber-strapped Old Navies, or pre-ordered your spring L.L. Bean Maine Isles back in February, after you pad your way across the stage you may be comfortably aiming toward a life in teaching, counseling, urban planning, or writing for Rolling Stone.
Wing Tips: Once the height of swing style and edgy executive fashion (think Fred Astaire or Don Draper), wing tip shoes have carved out a niche for GQ twentysomethings somewhere between date night and first job interview. Now worn with or without socks (and occasionally with shorts under that graduation gown), wing tips are pointing this up-and-coming scholar toward careers in banking, engineering, advertising, and ballroom dancing.
Boots: Nearly rivaling pumps in wide variety, boots were some of the more eye-catching footwear popping out beneath otherwise plain academic robes, and they suggested a crop of new grads ready to take on the world in tire tread Timberlands, knee-high Catwoman-like stilettos, leopard print Uggs, ankle clogs, and at least one pair of pink, blinged-out combat boots (probably not U.S. Government issued). This sturdy cadre of alums may be venturing off to new discoveries in environmental science, law enforcement, landscape architecture, or filmmaking (perhaps the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey?)
As you look back on your week, and forward to the one ahead, may you join the NECC Class of 2015 and pump, sneak, flip, flop, wing, or tromp your way toward a bright and successful future!