Graduation, notions of beauty belong to community
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,
DANIEL J. BAUER
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.)