Sandra Tsing Loh was uncomfortable at UCI's commencement.
I don't know which commencement speakers you may have heard this June. But, where I teach? At UC Irvine? President Barack Obama.
Since my academic department had but 10 so-called "non-senate faculty" seats, for a brief sliver of time I foolishly thought I would end up being anywhere near Obama. But, no.
UC Irvine is so huge, they typically have like 20 different graduations. This year, with all the departments put together, commencement was at Anaheim's Angel's Stadium, which seats 45,000 people. We got many stern advisories about traffic, parking, and security lines that might last as long as three hours!
In short, for an 11:30 a.m. commencement, we were told to arrive at Angel's Stadium at 8, IN full regalia.
I don't know about you, but I find regalia confusing. There are rules about it. It's a bit like wearing a flag. The mortar board has a certain side that has to go front, the tassel has to go, for faculty, to the left. The black zippered gown is self-explanatory, but putting on the "hood" - which is really more of a mini-cape - is a 3-D puzzle. Velvet side up! Chevron down! Blue and yellow silk out! What?
And, being that we were in Anaheim in June, it was hot. By 10 a.m. it felt like 100 degrees. As we sweltered, we could go into big open tents to get pastries and coffee, which we'd been drinking since 8. And then, the realization hit us. Oh, God no! Porta-potties. We are talking hundreds of sweaty people, in full regalia, billowy sleeves down to their ankles, waiting to climb into a plastic box the size of a phone booth to do their business. Yikes.
After surviving that humiliating exercise, I realize, like an idiot, I don't know what to do with my purse! There's no place to stash it. "Oh no," I wail to my friend Ulysses, as we started forming ourselves into lines, "I will be the only faculty member marching with cap and gown and purse!" He suggests I just strap it to my body under the gown, so it will be hidden - which I do - at the exact moment a lusty cry goes up - "He's here!" And, up in the sky, on rapid approach, are three military helicopters! It's so exciting! Must take video! I frantically fumble for my iPhone, which is in my purse under my gown, and end up half-strangling myself!
But, in the end, it was a Jumbo-Tron-worthy event. Charismatic, smart, articulate - he is a Barack Star! I came away truly inspired for our millennials... and with a new appreciation for indoor plumbing.