Saturday, May 3, 2014

No. 33 – Duke’s Travels / Duke’s End

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Duke
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: The studio version.

To a certain extent, I could just say that this suite is the grand finale of my second-favorite album of all-time and call that sufficient for explaining why it’s here. But the thing I really love about it is the triumphant sound of Duke’s Travels, particularly the unlisted reprise of the Guide Vocal. It sits in stark contrast to the rest of the album, which is as bleak a break-up album as has been written, in my estimable opinion.

Duke was a huge album my senior year at Wabash, as I mentioned. And seemingly like all good things, eventually my experience there had to come to an end.

My college graduation was a different experience than it had been from high school. In high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of Upper Arlington. At Wabash, I was eager to move on to the next stage of my life, yes, but I knew I also was leaving a lot behind. My experience at Wabash had been one of quintessential growth: I’d gone from a lowly pledge and an even lowlier ex-pledge my freshman year to the voice of Wabash sports and a well-respected—and award-winning—English student my senior year.

From there I was going, well, not back to square one, but back to where everything I’d done beforehand no longer mattered. I had to remake my reputation all over again. Still, I was excited to get to Northwestern and more excited to get home for the long summer.

As I mentioned, my final semester at Wabash consisted of three classes and one independent study. I had four papers due the last week of class but only one final. Almost exactly 28 years ago to the day, my academic pursuits at Wabash came to an end. All that remained was cleaning up the apartment where I’d lived (and might have died one night in March 1986, good ol’ No. 65), moving my stuff home and picking up my diploma.

I was excited to actually receive my Wabash diploma for two reasons. First, a Wabash diploma is an actual sheepskin, cut paper-thin. Second, it’s in Latin. That’s the oldest of old school and fitting. I mean, I fell in love with Wabash five years earlier, because it looked like College. So why wouldn’t College give me a Diploma? Best of all, they were handed out rolled up with a bit of red ribbon tied around them. You don’t get more real than that.

The only bad thing about the graduation was that the weather forced the ceremony into Chadwick Court. Typically, Wabash’s graduation ceremony is held in the mall, with the Chapel as the backdrop and the red-brick college buildings all around.

Holding the proceedings indoors also presented a logistical problem, because I’d overinvited guests. Outside, you had unlimited seating for guests. Inside, each student had a limit of four. Those who couldn’t sit had to stand.

Well, Dad and Laura had to be there. I mean, he picked up the tab after all, at least the part that my grades and scholarship didn’t, and Beth had to be there, of course. And Jin and Scott, well … they didn’t have to be there, but they came anyway. Beth’s family came, which was nice, but they bowed out given the seating issue. My grandparents came, too. I was pleased DePauw trustee Pop showed up in the belly of the enemy—the School Up North—but they stood in the back as long as Meemaw could handle it before leaving.

The ceremony had as much ritual as you would expect. Another Wabash tradition: The valedictorians deliver the speeches, not a celebrity guest, and I knew both in my class pretty well, which was cool. I had a good seat toward the front, as did Matt—a benefit of making cum laude, which my sheepskin in Latin duly attested.

And then … it was over. Four years seemed to have rushed by in the blink of an eye, during which I learned how to learn, how to be self-disciplined enough to put my nose to the grindstone and work, how to be self-sufficient and live on my own. It was a time when I went from being a boy to being … well, a more mature boy. It also was a time when I first became sexually aware.

Speaking of which, after the graduation ceremony, everyone left for home, including Beth. I stayed behind to pack up the last of my belongings and drive home. Most of the furniture and assorted bric-a-brac already had been shuttled back to Columbus. Even my bed was back home—in the back of Dad's van—so I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.

When I got home, Beth told me that because her aunt had come to visit that weekend, her parents said she could have stayed and come home with me. Wait … what?! You mean to tell me that we had the chance to have a parentally approved overnight and we didn’t partake? Sure, there wouldn’t have been any consummating, but that was beside the point. Oh well … we’ll just have to make up for that somehow.

We did. Two weeks later, my friend Lance, whom you might recall as the person who graciously offered up his couch when I was being misidentified as the object of a cuckolded husband’s anger, got married in the Chapel at Wabash. Beth and I attended, and we stayed at the Lew, just behind where I used to live not two weeks before.

Now THAT felt weird. I was back at Wabash, yet I no longer was of Wabash. It all looked the same, but it felt different. I felt simultaneously welcomed and alienated all at once. You know the phrase “too soon”? That visit definitely had a feeling of “too soon”—it was too soon to be back at Wabash as an alum, even if I got to consummate with Beth one last time in my college town.

Well, it won’t be “too soon” the next time. Arrangements have been made, and I’ll be going back in a couple weeks to see Matt’s son graduate from Wabash 28 years after his father and his father’s senior-year roommate did the same thing. I’m looking forward to showing Laurie all the old haunts. I just hope Wabash still hands out rolled up Latin sheepskins tied in red ribbon. Some things should never change.

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