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Universities Are Canceling Commencement. Students Should Skip It Anyway

I did a lot of stupid things in college. Skipping my commencement ceremony on the National Mall is not one of them.

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I did a lot of stupid things in college. Skipping my commencement ceremony on the National Mall is not one of them. As the class of 2024 prepares for another wave of ceremony cancellations this year, here’s some advice: skip them.

George Washington University (GW) is the only institution with the privilege of holding its university-wide graduation ceremony on the roughly 150 acres known as “America’s front yard.” Every student in D.C. is taught to revere it. At American University, where I spent my freshman year before I transferred, an introductory writing course focused almost exclusively on the National Mall’s importance to American heritage.

Once at GW, students could often be found honoring such heritage with frequent trips to the nation’s “grand avenue,” whether it be a sunrise run or under a midnight stupor. Fraternities and sororities take their pictures there. Students visit with their parents there, and tourists from everywhere focus their entire trips there.

The university proudly advertises exclusive access to the Mall “offering graduates this #OnlyAtGW opportunity of a lifetime each May.” Yet for all of the fanfare associated with graduating with a political science degree in the iconic heart of the nation’s capital, blowing off the commencement ceremony turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I graduated from GW in 2019, when NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie was the commencement speaker. I reacted to the announcement with a shrug. My problem with commencement was never the alum chosen to speak. Every year, Young America’s Foundation (YAF) releases a survey of university commencement speakers and they’re always near-unanimously leftist.

Out of 100 schools analyzed last year, YAF reported, “only a single conservative voice made its way to the podium.” Instead, the problem for me was the pageantry.

I started my final semester at GW with two options: sit in a $15 folding chair on the National Mall in the sweltering D.C. heat so I can listen to a bunch of self-righteous administrators speak about how important they are, or head out in my final few weeks of unemployment with all the tip money I could save by working overtime at a nearby bar. I chose the latter. The largest American festival for electric dance music, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, was the same weekend, and I was not going to miss it.

If I ever write a memoir, (and everyone should in old age, even if no one reads it), I’ll include the pictures. But my cap and gown felt far more practical in the windy nighttime desert than the outfit would have in the swampy D.C. spring heat. The random people with whom I rented a house in Las Vegas helped me decorate my cap for the second day of the festival, which was the same day as commencement in D.C.

As anyone who has ever been to an electronic music festival knows, these events are filled with some of the kindest, most well-meaning people, even the ones not on drugs (um, just don’t bring up politics). Every random person who saw me in my cap and gown walking through the crowd that second day knew exactly what I was doing: graduating in style. People were congratulating me non-stop, and they did so with an authenticity that frankly, somewhat shocked me after four years in D.C.

It’s been five years since graduation now, and I still get goosebumps at the memory of my cap toss. I had vividly dreamt in my sleep during my final semester that I threw my cap off to “Yottabyte” by the Dutch DJ Martin Garrix. When I got to the set, my goal was simply just to throw my cap while on top of someone’s shoulders — forget about the song, which might not even be played.

The people I arrived at the festival with went to see another artist, so I was alone at the performance but made friends with strangers in the crowd, as one does at these things. About halfway through the show, I asked one of the guys, who was built like a college quarterback, if he’d hoist me on his shoulders for the next drop so I could toss my cap. His response was as if I didn’t even have to ask.

As fate would have it, “Yottabyte” began to play as soon as I topped his shoulders, and I flung my cap off, never expecting to see it again on the first bass drop. What I also wasn’t expecting was the crowd of 400 people around us who watched this all unfold and cheered when the cap flew. Someone handed it back a few minutes later after the hat made its way through the crowd. That college graduation was hands down one of the highlights of my life.

After the festival, I flew straight from Vegas to Costa Rica, where I slept in a bunk room shack and went surfing for a week to recover. I started working for The Federalist when I arrived back in D.C.

Everyone warned me about skipping commencement on the National Mall. Sometimes I wondered whether I would eventually regret doing so. But half a decade later, celebrating at a music festival instead of attending another pretentious D.C. ceremony remains one of my best moments.

So, here’s a tip for students such as those at the University of Southern California (USC) upset over missing out on commencement: don’t be. Go do something fun and make commencement your own.


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