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The symbolism of weddings and graduations

April 30, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
It's graduation and wedding season and I've been thinking about symbolism.

I've spent the past few weeks gathering information for the annual graduation supplement The Minot Daily News will put out in May. Nearly every class has chosen class colors, a class flower and a class motto. The Christian schools have chosen a class Bible verse. I think there must be a book put out listing graduation mottos, since several classes have the same motto. They have a common theme about cherishing memories or the need to challenge limits or the nature of time. They range from the lofty Latin "Tempus fugit" or "time flies" to the modern "Never say never." "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is a path and leave a trail," a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, seems to be popular. Dr. Seuss hasn't shown up yet in a tagline for a class motto, but he was popular in past years.

I don't remember my class motto or the class flower or much of anything symbolic about that day. The day of my high school graduation was hot, the speakers were long-winded and they said pretty much what all speakers at graduation say about the memories of the past and hope for the future. It was both cliched and weighted with significance. It is a ceremony that, more than any other, will tell the graduating seniors that they are now adults or, at least, more adult, whether they are ready or not. In the banality of the class mottos is shining hope for the future and the will to make the world a better place than they found it.

Like two billion others I watched part of the royal wedding on YouTube and various London newspaper sites yesterday and there, too, I found myself thinking about the symbolism of marriage, both of the royal wedding and all of the others that will take place this spring.

Each of the flowers in Kate Middleton's wedding bouquet had a meaning associated with the language of flowers: lily of the valley meaning "trustworthy" or "return to happiness"; myrtle for "hope and love" and the symbol of married love; Sweet William for "gallantry" and in reference to Prince William; hyacinth for "constancy of love" and ivy for "fidelity" and married love.

The Anglican marriage ceremony included a prayer written by William and Kate asking God to help them always see what is real, for a happy marriage and for the strength to devote their energy to the public sphere and to help those who are suffering. The ceremony ended with a traditional, rousing Anglican hymn called "Jerusalem" which calls for people to create a new heaven in "England's green and pleasant land." The YouTube video showed that the music spilled out into the street and the crowd was singing "Jerusalem" along with those inside the church.

This was the wedding of two people, albeit a royal prince and his commoner bride, but also a vow by William and Kate to use their marriage to renew the royal family and to do the best for their country. I thought it was all quite beautiful, as such ceremonies almost always are.


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