May 20, 2016
Pomp, Circumstance, and the Repeat Player
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Georgia Law's graduation ceremony is tomorrow.  We do commencement well here at Georgia-- on our historic North Campus, under the shade of old oak trees.  Professors have funny roles on graduation day.  The ceremony is not about us, of course, although we do play an important part in it.  (I mean, surely they'd miss us if we weren't there?)  It came to me while watching another ceremony, Tamika Montgomery-Reeves' investiture--the professors are the repeat players at commencement.

Now, the phrase "repeat player" has a particular connotation in the legal academy, one stemming from Marc Galanter's excellent article "Why the 'Haves' Come out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change."1 Whether in litigation or in transactions, those who repeatedly interact with a given legal system have an advantage over "one-shotters" that engage with it only once. The more I learn about the law, the more explanatory power Galanter's insight seems to hold. 

Luckily, faculty and students are not adversaries at graduation.  Nor are professors the only repeat players in the ceremonies of our lives.  As I reflected on Vice-Chancellor Montgomery-Reeve's investiture, where Chancellor Bouchard and other Chancery Court employees guided us expertly through the ceremony, I recollected myself being helped at ceremonies where I played the one-shotter.  Weddings, funerals, christenings.  Sit here, step to the podium, wait for the music.  Priests, rabbis, and ministers, often serve as the repeat players in these ceremonies, singular for the participants, familiar for them. 

Familiar, but not routine.  Sometimes my students ask, "It's probably no big deal for you, Professor Rodrigues, right?  After all the graduations you've attended?"  No, it's still a big deal.  But it's different kind of deal.  Being the repeat player at commencement grants us the luxury of observing the students and their families-- chuckling self-consciously over their old fashioned robes and mortar boards, nervous and uncertain.  We know they'll adjust their caps at least 6 times, and fidget with their tassels.  It's a big day for them and their families, and although they've longed for it, when it comes to it, they're a little unsure of what they're supposed to do and what it all will mean. 

Perhaps this is the value of the repeat player in a ceremony.  For each graduate, there is a sense of joy and singularity, but overlaying it is a sense of tradition and continuity. I think perhaps that combination is what makes these ceremonies so meaningful. We celebrate the singular nature of this particular day, these celebrants--be they graduates, bride and groom, or judge.  But we celebrate with the knowledge that the ceremony-- with its rituals, words, and trappings-- has unfolded more or less like this many times in the past, and will continue in the future. It's a link to celebrants past and future, and the repeat player can appreciate that in a way that those enveloped in the giddiness of the moment cannot.

No matter the reason, it's still one of my favorite days of the year. Congratulations, Class of 2016.

19 Law & Soc'y Rev. 95 (1974).

 

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