I was on Facebook this weekend when one of my brothers in ministry posted a 57 second clip (which is almost viral) from graduation from our alma mater, Kentucky State University. It was amazing to watch for several reasons. One, it reminded me why I decided to go to an HBCU (Historically Black College or University). The African American experience is not monolithic. It is a vast diaspora of experiences from the totality of the Black experience. Two, it demonstrated the power of celebration on every level. Graduates have a common experience when they reach the pinnacle of academic success–struggle. Three, it showed that celebration is always in order on the other side of struggle.
So what is my problem this morning? My problem is with people that missed the totality of what was taking place. A read on the time line of another alumnus of K-State the disagreement with the “praise break” that took place. As a Christian, I would have taken offense years ago. However, God also gave me perspective as a scholar and social theologian. So allow me a moment to use every aspect of my being to explain the nature of the disconnect.
Much of the offensive nature of the moment in the midst of the larger graduation context was rooted in the idea of distraction. Yes, commencement exercises are these static events that are usually the epitome of an educational institution’s piety. With all of the regalia on display, we are conditioned to be well behaved individuals, though we have much to celebrate. That is why it is inevitable that celebration and shouting will eventually breakout. The generations of family members that never thought this day would come break out in a shout because their baby made it over. Notice that I have not mentioned the strumming of organ chords yet.
Consider the people that may serve as faculty and staff that have watched students labor in the library, classroom, student center, or residence halls trying to grasp concepts and finish projects to demonstrate their competence in an area study. Smiles come across the face and celebration rest in the hearts of people who watch these scholars cross over into the promised land.
The very nature of graduation is celebration. It is no longer about assignments and classwork. It is not about the grind that produced stress and sleep deprivation for everyone in involved in the process (students, professors, support staff, student life, administration, etc). It is the one moment where the entire campus ought to breathe a collective sigh of relief and celebrate accomplishment. But, here comes the deeper issue.
When 60 seconds of a celebration is singled out as a distraction, it lets me know that you are deprived not only of historical context but of the source of celebration. Psalm 150 is the end of a book of songs that signify a crescendo of an attitude of gratitude.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
The Psalmist suggests that celebration is in order in every context. It is appropriate in the worship space, beyond the worship space, with instruments and voice. Why? Simply this, God is good. Even if you are not a person of faith, the context suggest that celebration is a necessary aspect of the human experience.
The disconnect that many people have is understanding celebratory expression is at the discretion of the person engaged in happiness. Your approval or disapproval of the style is not really that important. When I graduated from K-State in 2005, I would have killed for a moment to break loose for 60 seconds. I thought about how my heart was broken my freshman year. I considered how a close friend of mine died unexpectedly, and my aunt died from cancer in my sophomore year (continue to rest in power, Joi Price and Aunt Janette). I almost quit my junior year. I needed a fifth year to finish the journey I could have finished in four. Celebration for making it was in order for me.
Praise or celebration is not about you or who watch. Graduation is not about the spectator. It is about the graduate. My praise is not about you. My praise is about the One who brought me through the struggle. Your irritation and rational for why it is unacceptable to you is absolutely unnecessary. In a world were we have enough hardship, emotional strife, and angst, please keep your non-celebratory self in the corner. Let the rest of us have a moment of freedom. Shout ’til you fall out!!!! Congrats to every 2018 graduate!