The Pomp and Circumstance of philanthropy

By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County

It never fails. Every single time I hear it, I get a lump in my throat. Our oldest son graduated Texas A&M University two weeks ago, and, like at most graduation ceremonies, the procession began with “Pomp and Circumstance.” The tune sounds triumphant, but there is an underlying tone of nostalgia. It seems to take you back - to memories of your own graduation, to memories of what now seem like simpler times or to memories of your children being far too young to be graduates.  For all of these reasons, the grandiose march conveys a complex mixture of emotions and is perfectly suited to a commencement that marks the beginning of one stage of life, and the end of another.

It is definitely that time of year, when mortar boards and gowns adorn graduates of many different ages and stages. Pictures are proudly shown of captured moments from Kindergarten graduation, 8th grade graduation, high school and college graduation. Even the Literacy Council of Tyler, in partnership with Tyler Junior College, celebrated the graduation of its adult students who received their GED diplomas. Looking at the faces in these photographs, you can almost feel the deep sense of accomplishment.  If it’s the face of the proud parent or the graduate himself, eyes are beaming, because a goal has been achieved. Hard work and, often times, great sacrifices have been made to make the reward that much sweeter.

So, maybe, it is only fitting that “Pomp and Circumstance” sets the stage for this momentous occasion. The origin of the word pomp is Latin and means splendid display or celebration; a magnificent show or ceremony, while the word circumstance relates to a surrounding condition or situation. In 1901, Sir Edward Elgar, England’s foremost musician, wrote orchestral marches suitable for royal ceremonial occasions. He took his title for them, “Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches,” from Act III, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello, where Othello bemoans the supposed infidelity of Desdemona and sees his world crumbling:

“Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ ear-piercing fife;
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”

The march we know as “Pomp and Circumstance” is March No. 1 and was played for the coronation of King Edward VII. The first time it was played in a graduation setting was in 1905, when Elgar received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Yale University. The impression the work had on the assembled audience led to its gradual adoption by other prestigious American universities.

For all of the graduates who march to this popular melody, there is indeed pomp and circumstance – a formality about a very important event. As we ponder this moment in time, we can look at it from a philanthropic point of view. Lots of giving goes into the receiving of a diploma. Scholarships, financial aid, tutorials, cheers, tears and prayers all contribute to the steps of that march as the music swells. It’s a march to a bright future, a dream come true, a place of dignity. Philanthropy surrounds the experience, because humanity has been nourished, developed and enhanced. Whether you give it to yourself or you’re a part of making it possible for someone else, education is a gift that truly does keep on giving, and it never can be taken away.

Just as Othello forged his identity in war’s splendid rituals, we can find ourselves in that which we invest our time and treasures. If we invest in our future and in the future of others, we can ensure a grand march will undoubtedly commence. And, when the music begins, we can swallow that lump in our throat and look forward to the days ahead.

Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle. Membership to this philanthropic organization is open to all women, who are interested in being a part of impact giving. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org for more information.

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