The actual ceremony is panoply and performance, aimed outward. A demonstration important for the community — and especially the community outside the community — but empty. No. The real work came earlier, came in the last awful weeks of the semester, when everyone hunkered down over their tablets and their laptops, grappled with words and demonstrations and ideas and lack of sleep.
And especially at the end. The hall doesn’t echo as Jillian walks to the podium: every seat is full of noise-absorbing flesh. For two months her seminar has been one rabbit hole after another, close encounters and diving into the wreck. She has hauled her souls gasping and disintegrating into the light, one after the other, to be weighed and found wanting, to be measured and dismissed, to be pushed again and again to a deeper level, a more primal truth.
She took her turn in the formal robes and mask, but that was trivial.
They have demanded — and received — nothing less than the full dissolution of her self. Down at the bottom, at the bedrock, and they kept digging. She loses family, friends, the power of her name, and still further down. Objects becomes collections of planes, become lines of light and shadow, become abstract colors, and meaningless.
At the podium she looks out across a sea of flames, a field of waving wheat, her fellow undergraduates. She speaks, and her voice is the roar of a forest fire, the clash of swords in the arena, gunfire echoing off the dunes. She speaks, and the crowd swallows her whole, pierces her through, and accepts her.
Everything else is just ceremony.