"Man plans, God laughs."
Earlier this week the Flophouse was in Montreal for a very important family event: the Elder Frenchling's graduation ceremony at McGill. The Phinney Ridge contingent was there as well (the proud grandparents who flew in from Seattle). We all stayed at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown, just down the street from the Notre-Dame Basilica, and we had a fine time eating dim sum and talking to each other en direct without computer-mediated communication (a nice change).
Tuesday morning we got up and put on our Sunday best (suits all around) and headed down to McGill early so we could grab good seats. Bright-eyed and bouncy young things were passing out programs and directing people through tunnels into the huge tent that had been set up on the lawn to shelter the families and graduates in case the weather became inclement.
And for the first hour or so it seemed that they had over-compensated because the weather was fine. It was so sunny and humid, in fact, that the tent turned into a sauna and we were wiping sweat off our faces while we waited anxiously for the event to begin. Off came the suit coats and once we had perused the program and located our daughter's name (she was graduate number 680), those lovely programs made fine fans.
At last the ceremony began and the graduates began to file into the tent serenaded by bagpipes. It took over 20 minutes to seat everyone before the chancellor could open the ceremonies.
There were the usual speeches, the conferring of an honorary degree on Denise Chong who then gave the commencement address. Finally we came to the heart of the business and the first undergraduates started crossing the stage to be "tapped".
And then everything went to hell.
There were at least 2000 people in that tent and it was fascinating to watch how such a large group reacted to the situation. Looking around there was clearly a reason to be worried but it was hard to judge just how dangerous the situation really was. Was the tent going to collapse? Were the monitors going to fall? Some parents acted to shore up the side of the tent but mostly people seemed paralyzed by indecision.
Then, from the podium, the Chancellor said, well, it looks like they have everything under control so let's continue. Then after a brief pause he came back to the microphone and said we need everyone in the back to start moving very slowly toward the exits. This was followed by yet another announcement that called for everyone to start evacuating the tent. Some people moved and some didn't. Why?
From what I could tell it was a combination of factors. The parents in the back were worried about their children in the front and didn't want to leave them. The exits on the side that was sagging were closed so for those of us on that side the exits were far away and already clogged with people trying to leave. It was raining so hard and it was so windy outside the tent that there was a sense that there was danger out there as well and I think it slowed people down. And finally people were watching each other and the McGill management at the podium for cues.
Finally someone pulled the fire alarm and from the front of a room there was a clear directive for everyone to get out from under the monitors and to exit the tent NOW. That, and the fact that we could see that they were evacuating the graduates (our children) at the front, got everyone moving.
Not exactly the graduation ceremony we had in mind but the miracle here is that no one got hurt, everyone was graduated, and we all got home safe and sound and went out for a very nice dinner.
As for our daughter she was very disappointed not to have her moment of triumph on stage. She graduated in three years with Distinction (in the top 25% of her class) and with High Honors (this means a student in the Honors program who maintained a GPA above 3.5). For my French readers, this translates to a "mention très bien."
We are so proud of her. OK, this graduation ceremony was a bit of a wash but there's always graduate school, right?