The western part of Massachusetts, where I live, is peppered with colleges and universities. Top-drawer to lower-shelf, there are a lot of "institutions of higher learning." And here, as elsewhere in the United States, the waning days of May and the early days of June are when graduates receive degrees attesting to their efforts and accomplishments.
I pity the poor bastards -- the main speakers -- invited to address such gatherings. Their words, whether heart-felt or knee-jerk are squeezed by circumstance into a very narrow bandwidth ... follow your dreams, do some social good, don't be a self-centered twit, you are certified "college graduates" -- use your certification well. This is not a venue for dirty jokes.
Woven into graduation ceremonies, whispering below the surface of certification and relief and release, there is always a kind of frisson -- a thrill or chill: On the one hand, there is a stamp of approval and on the other there is a curious sense that the person who is certified simply cannot be certified. "I'm the same person I was before anyone handed me a diploma."
A college degree, as anyone who has got one can attest, is no good unless you haven't got one. Like the rest of the laundry list anyone might put on a resume, certifications of accomplishment are meant for other people -- employers for example, or friends and acquaintances who depend on such certifications as a means of knowing "who" you are. It's a yardstick, of course, but it is the kind of yardstick that can throttle the individual being measured: It's bad enough that others might think certifications were a true measure of an individual, but it can be a sad day when those individuals credit their own certifications as a true measure of their lives.
I am a housewife, a plumber, a race car driver, a stock broker, a scientist, a drunk, a writer, a cowboy, a hunter, a man, a woman, a bullshit artist, a ... the certifications go on and on. People receive certification according to appreciations, whether of others or the self.
And yet, and yet....
There is nothing wrong with certification according to deeds, but I wonder if there will ever be a graduation ceremony in which graduates will be encouraged to nourish and recall that within that cannot be certified, the core that shudders a little or dies a little when stamps of approval or disapproval are the only measures by which a person might live.
It's nothing special and there is no need to run around turning it into a gang-bang philosophy or religion. All that is required is to notice what anyone might notice anyway ... that certificates just don't quite cover the topic. "I'm still the same person I was before anyone started applauding or throwing rotten eggs." This is a good observation, a good starting point. So ... who is this "same person?"
Somehow it is important to make peace with that which is not yet peaceful -- the place or person that has no certificates. Would certificates have any meaning or impact without the realm in which certification does not compute?
No need to exclude the certificates. No need to rely on them either.
It's just a mistake to ignore that for which no certificate can be given.