Grad­u­a­tion, no­tions of beauty be­long to com­mu­nity

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Gus­tave Flaubert’s great novel “Madame Bo­vary” builds it­self around a se­ries of rich and com­plex “com­mu­nity events.” These events in the hands of Flaubert can be elab­o­rate in­deed. But the event it­self need not be. The de­scrip­tion of an or­di­nary evening at a rus­tic vil­lage inn, for ex­am­ple, at which a col­lec­tion of town types ha­bit­u­ally gath­ers for gos­sip and a com­mon supper, is ac­tu­ally a rather sim­ple event. It in­volves, how­ever, an as­sem­bling of char­ac­ters, col­or­ful and yet or­di­nary in­di­vid­u­als, each with an im­por­tant role to play. The com­bi­na­tion of these char­ac­ters,


and of their very reg­u­lar, nor­mal, al­most bor­ingly pre­dictable be­hav­ior makes their story truly great.

Another com­mu­nity event in the novel is of course Emma’s grand wed­ding. That wed­ding is less about the beau­ti­ful coun­try bride and the bumbling coun­try doc­tor­groom (Charles) than it is about the band of char­ac­ters that pop­u­late their lives and wider fam­ily, and that come to celebrate with Emma what un­til then is the hap­pi­est day of her life. Emma’s wed­ding serves as a pref­ace for the most cli­mac­tic and mem­o­rable com­mu­nity event of the work: her death, the mourn­ing that fol­lows, and her fu­neral. Now for the dif­fi­cult part. Per­haps as a fi­nal Quixotic quest fated more to point to a goal than to achieve it, I hope to link the no- tion of com­mu­nity event here with two “im­prob­a­ble” no­tions. The first is the no­tion of grad­u­a­tion, clearly a com­mu­nity event hap­pen­ing all around us at this time of the year. The sec­ond is the no­tion of beauty, specif­i­cally, fem­i­nine beauty.

If I can bring all of that to­gether, I’ll take my hat off to my­self, ha ha.

Dressed for Bat­tle

One of the things you no­tice at a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony is how nearly iden­ti­cal all the stu­dents look. This is so even on the ba­sis of gen­der. Ex­cept for the hair (only in some cases) and, ob­vi­ously, the flash­ing eyes and smiles that, with the help of cos­met­ics, sig­nal “boy” or “girl,” grad­u­ates are draped head to toe to look as in­di­vid­u­ally un­rec- og­niz­able as pos­si­ble. The mor­tar boards and tas­sels, the heavy hot gowns of the same color, you get the point. Grad­u­ates are sol­diers dressed for bat­tle, for pity’s sake. Who can tell them apart?

An awards cer­e­mony sep­a­rates the ea­ger beavers from all the rest, but only con­sumes 12 per­cent of the whole af­fair. If you sneeze, you al­most miss the awards. We who at­tend grad­u­a­tions are mostly there for the whole gang. We’re happy and clap­ping for the class. The grad­u­ates are not so much mine as ours. The whole lov­able bunch mat­ters. Grad­u­a­tions are rich com­mu­nity events for us all.

Stay with me, please, as I make a turn in the road.

It so hap­pens that in 30 years of univer­sity teach­ing, the great ma­jor­ity of my stu­dents have been young women. I’ve loved my guy stu­dents, too. Each is spe­cial. I can­not how­ever say I am sad to have been blessed with so many young women in my life.

Many Ways to Be Beau­ti­ful

One of my women grad­u­ates this year told me re­cently of the oc­ca­sional but deep sad­ness her sis­ter feels be­cause her skin is darker than the skin of oth­ers. I hate the thought, but I know there are thou­sands, per­haps mil­lions of Tai­wanese girls and women like this stu­dent’s sis­ter. They have been brain­washed to be­lieve dark skin is ugly skin. What we need is a com­mu­nity event of sorts to wake us up to the truth.

On its cover, the 2015 sum­mer is­sue of the In­ter­na­tional edi­tion of the New York Times Style mag­a­zine cur­rently fea­tures a lovely “dark” model named Amilna Este­vao. She is one of sev­eral women from around the world high­lighted in its ar­ti­cle, “The New Beauty.” Wow.

I have writ­ten on other Sun­days on the bla­tantly racist at­ti­tude that skin lighter is skin more beau­ti­ful. Why are we so slow to re­al­ize there are many ways to be sexy, and many ways to be beauti- ful? I es­pe­cially wanted to touch this topic to­day, be­cause I feel so strongly about it, and for another rea­son. To­day may be the last time I ap­pear on this page.

I will visit loved ones in the States in July and Au­gust, and do not know if this col­umn will con­tinue when I re­turn. If it does, fine. If it does not, fine as well.

What­ever may be, I am grate­ful in­deed for 20 years of weekly con­ver­sa­tions with read­ers. We have shared a mod­est com­mu­nity event in this space that I feel blessed to have been a part of.

Thank you so much, all of you. (Fa­ther Daniel J. Bauer SVD is a priest and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the English Depart­ment at Fu Jen Catholic Univer­sity.)

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