Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation June 3, 2016

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat.

A uniquely decorated graduation hat at Tufts University 2016 commencement.

I’VE ATTENDED THREE COLLEGE graduations now, for each of my three children, with eight years separating the first and final commencements.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony at Tufts.

The daughters’ ceremonies were held in gyms at public universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t recall much about either other than the Wisconsin politician who used his commencement speech as a campaign platform. I was deeply disappointed, even angry. This wasn’t supposed to be about him, but rather about the graduates.

Congratulatory balloons floated among spectators.

Congratulatory balloons float among spectators.

So when alum and Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria was slated to deliver the all-school commencement speech at my son’s May 22 graduation from Tufts University in greater Boston, I was wary. I had no idea who he was, which is no surprise given I am unaware of most Hollywood celebrities. When I learned that Azaria voiced many of The Simpsons characters, I was delighted. My son is a big fan of The Simpsons.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement began.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement begins.

To my relief, Azaria gave a humorous speech with the simple message that graduates should be honest with themselves and trust their instincts.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

He voiced several characters from The Simpsons, providing much needed laughter in a morning with an abundance of drawn-out pomp and circumstance.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Role-playing Moe the bartender, Azaria said, “I didn’t have a high-falutin’ education. I went to BU.” The audience roared at the comparison between Tufts and Boston University. I understood, feeling a bit like a country hick myself amidst the obvious wealth of many Tufts families.  I am keenly aware that my son, too, felt at times out-of-place on this East Coast campus as a Minnesota boy from a lower middle class family.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts' mascot Jumbo, in the background here.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts’ mascot, Jumbo, in the background here.

Laughter also erupted when Azaria mimicked the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (from The Simpsons): “We both worship an elephant.” Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant. P.T. Barnum was an early benefactor of the university.

Tufts police and EMS stood ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to commencement, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Tufts police and EMS stand ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to graduation day, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Light-hearted moments were welcome among the formal protocol, which began at 9 a.m. and extended well into the afternoon. Thousands gathered on the campus green for, first, the all-school commencement ceremony, and afterward for individual school commencements.

A father photographs the

A father photographs The School of Engineering commencement ceremony. That’s a side profile of Jumbo the elephant in the background.

My husband and I were sitting so far back from the stage that we could see little. I used my camera’s telephoto lens as binoculars several times.

Thousands of chairs covered the campus green for commencement. The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

Thousands of chairs cover the campus green for commencement. We sat in this side wing area near the back. Apparently you need to arrive really early to get a good seat.  The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

I was thankful events were held outdoors on the beautiful university green rather than inside some stuffy auditorium. Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus sits atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Campus buildings are aged and solid, trademark visuals of a long-established and respected educational institution.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Visiting Tufts for the first time on graduation weekend was an experience, an opportunity to see this place our son has called home for three years. Many other families traveled, too, from across the country and across the world to watch their sons and daughters graduate. We shared that commonality. Maybe not of financial wealth, or lack thereof. But of parents celebrating.

BONUS PHOTOS:

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a picnic lunch--salad, strawberries and a bar--on a grassy hillside.

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a complimentary picnic lunch–salad, strawberries and a bar–on a grassy hillside. Everything was recycled.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

FYI: Check back next week for a tour of the Tufts campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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24 Responses to “When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation”

  1. So thankful you were able to attend. What fun! And Hank Azaria- how cool! Colin and Ian would have greatly enjoyed that. I knew his name but wouldn’t have thought of him as a grad speaker!

  2. Beautiful – great captures too 🙂 I am a huge fan of Hank Azaria – I get his sense of humor – ha! Happy Weekend – Enjoy

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    I loved Hank Azaria in the Bird Cage. That’s one of my favorite humorous movies… and it would rival some of the political mayhem we’re seeing today. I think you’d enjoy it. I love your candid event photographs, Audrey. You have an excellent eye for detail and you notice unusual shots that most of us would overlook.

    • Now I’m going to have to check out Bird Cage, given the recommendations here.

      Thank you for your compliment on my photography. I often find myself looking for those unusual shots, for the details that complete the photo story. It’s a fun challenge and stretches my creative thinking to find some of these shots.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Your description was totally engaging! The photos gave us the perfect glimpse of this time honored occasion. I look forward to the next installment!!!! I, too, feel uncomfortable at many events that happen at locations whose very existence exude a curious wealth (more often the case when we visit the East Coast, I must say).

    • Thank you, Doreen. I didn’t necessarily feel uncomfortable as much as, I don’t know, not quite fitting in. And that feeling came on the day we toured, not on commencement day. I was dressed in jeans that day. Definitely not something one should wear on this college campus.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    Graduation? Already? It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was in high school. I feel like I’ve missed a few years. Congratulations to your son. What a lot of fabulous family milestones you have been celebrating lately. The graduation looks and sounds wonderful. And I’m glad Hank was able to bring some humour into the occasion xx

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    Love this write up and know that it was all worth the long trip and miles that you and Randy traveled. I also love Hank Azaria and I am sure it was a good mix of humor and inspiration that he shared with the graduates and families and loved ones.

  7. Jackie Says:

    SO glad you were able to be at Caleb’s graduation, a proud time for you and Randy I’m sure, and how wonderful to have Hank A. as the speaker, Looking forward to more posts on the subject!

  8. I was wondering if there was a reason for your road trip. Glad to hear that it was a joyful celebration

  9. Congratulations to all your children and their accomplishments over the years! Beautiful photos to remember the event as well!


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