We were returning home when a thick mist began to morph into raindrops. Evening darkness was falling upon the neighborhood. Plastic garbage bags and boxes were haphazardly strewn at doorways in anticipation of the next morning’s trash collection. Something bright red, discarded on a garbage pile, caught my eye. I first guessed that it was a table cloth, but then spied a black graduation cap peaking out from under a crumpled nylon academic robe. The mortar board and gown were not even damp. This meant that they were tossed aside moments before we rounded the corner. Some graduate had discarded the honorary vestige of a college education.
A front-page photo and feature story in the next day’s Globe solved the mystery. At the Boston University commencement, smiling faces from the class of 2013 bobbed in a sea of the distinctive red hue favored by their alma mater. Their combined tuition and living expenses topped off at an annual cost of $50,000.00. That worked out to $200,000.00 invested in their degrees, not including the security deposit on a cap and gown dropped into a North End gutter.
I first puzzled over the identity of the student. (The robe was on the small side – probably a woman’s size.) Next I thought about her parents. Then I considered what sacrifices were made for underwriting a BU diploma and subsidizing an apartment rental for their daughter. Or, maybe it was not the big deal I was making it to be. Perhaps it was just another thing to be bought, consumed and easily discarded. Like pricey apartment furnishings dumped on the sidewalk when a lease expires. Like an empty pizza box.
I cannot explain how sad I felt and why I have a mortar board and red robe stored in the basement.
Thomas Schiavoni, a North End resident writes about neighborhood life and city living.