Version one: to say "I have graduated" means that I have completed sufficient classes/requirements to have finished some course of study and be recognized as knowing certain things (these things dependent on what level of education one is graduating from).

Version two: to say "I have graduated" means that you have actually gone through the ceremony with the cap and gown and the lines of people and various friends and family watching and constantly taking photos.

It is version two that I wish to talk about. Over the years I have had friends who refused to go to the ceremony of graduation. It was stupid, self-congratulatory and time consuming. Everyone knows you've finished the study. What is the point of the formal ceremony?

I graduated from college in May 2000, and my mother had a reason why I was going through the ritual of walking across the stage. When I complained about all the arrangements being made and the family flying into town she said, "You don't really think graduation is for you, do you?" Her point was that graduation was for the various people in my life who had invested in my education, either through time or treasure. It was their opportunity to verify that their investment had paid off and to celebrate the completion of a project. Anyone who has a degree, especially at the college level, ought to recognize that it is not merely the student's effort that gets him/her through the program. It is a cooperative effort of several people: the other students who form the study group, the spouse that works so the student can eat, the parent paying tuition, the professor offering his time, the friends providing moral support.

Graduation, the ritual, is a formal opportunity to say thank you to all these sources. Certainly there are some people who make it through on their own labors, but for most of us, we owe our success to others in some measure.

It isn't as if the ceremony is terrible. Often there is a good speaker (provided your school has worked to make it so). There's a certain pride at having all these people there for your triumph. And you get to watch your friends walk across the stage as they graduate with you.

This is graduation.