“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.” – Hafez
I threw out the ceremonial first pitch for a Lipscomb University baseball game last Friday, which was easily the most difficult and embarrassing thing I did all weekend. But I received far more sympathy for reading around three hundred names at the undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday afternoon. (For the baseball fans, the pitch was in the dirt, low and away, and the manager made the wise decision to pull me after a single pitch—no Tommy John surgery, but the trainer has me icing the old arm anyway.)
This was not my first time pronouncing names at graduation, having done so while at Pepperdine Law for three consecutive years sometime back. My favorite memory from those inaugural years was when I announced Hillary Mace, and much to my surprise (and I’m sure the fury of the events team), she ignored our wonderful dean and president and jumped up to my podium to give me a hug instead of accepting her diploma first. That kind of made my life.
But there are the haunting memories, also known as the attempts to pronounce the most difficult names given my cultural background. I remember practicing with my friend, Mr. Dehbozorgi, and feeling confident and ready. However, when it was showtime, I remember the sinking feeling when I looked at the next graduate in line and noticed Farshad’s excited face—and yet it wasn’t his turn! Farshad’s encouraging facial expression was saying, “C’mon, big guy, you can do this!” My facial expression was saying, “I am a deer, and I see headlights.” We somehow survived the interminable showdown, although therapy must have helped me forget exactly how.
My first foray reading names at Lipscomb had some definite pronunciation challenges, but given my return to the American South (and that Lipscomb is a more regional university), the names were most definitely easier. The best part was that I got to share the load with two new friends, Brian and Catherine (pictured above), so that each of us pronounced about three hundred names. Brian and Catherine are fantastic, and I was honored to be on their team.
That we have names is interesting all by itself, and the phenomenon of announcing names at formal recognition ceremonies even more so. It is a powerful feeling to stand on stage under bright lights wearing bizarre attire and declare a name over a powerful microphone that signifies the end of years of rigorous academic study and unleash wild applause from family and friends.
What is it about hearing that name?
Maybe it is because more often than not it is the first thing we do to a human being—give it a name. We are given a miracle, and we feel compelled to identify it in some way, and we say, You are _______. There. That is who you are. With time we learn to say it ourselves: I am ______. It is our linguistic attempt to establish a foundational identity, this curious mix of sounds and syllables.
We are each somebody. Every single one of us.
If you ever doubt it for yourself, give me or Brian or Catherine a call. We are seasoned professionals who can declare your name and unleash the applause.