Cowboy Graduates: Gimme an “S”

Last Saturday I went back to Stillwater to see my sister and my cousin both graduate from OSU.

The graduation ceremony was held in Gallagher-Iba Arena, with the mass of graduates sitting in folding chairs set up on the court itself. GIA is essentially hallowed ground for Cowboy fans, with that same 70-year-old white maple playing home court for 23 national championship teams in basketball and wrestling. Setting foot on the hardwood without invitation is consider a sin by the most faithful fans, with cries of “get off Mr. Iba’s court!” still ringing out when opposing coaches step out of the box.

If you are not an athlete, about the only way you can earn your way onto the court is by graduating. And even then, a protective mat is placed over the maple.

Such is the way things work at Oklahoma State, where the audience leads the cheerleaders and where, when a timeout does not give the band time to finish, the student section sings the endings of wordless pep tunes.

It is a place of some sentimentality for me, since I spent 6 years of my education there. So, as the new graduates linked arms to sway and sing the Alma Mater to finish the ceremony, I pulled out my digital camera to film the moment.

A couple of days later, I downloaded the memory card into my computer to see how the graduation pictures had turned out (not well), and to see if the video might be worthy of YouTube. I listened again to the swaying mass singing the words I have long known by heart:

Proud and immortal
Bright shines your name
Oklahoma State
We herald your fame
Ever you’ll find us
Loyal and true
To our alma mater

For the last line, singers raise their arms to form the 3 initials, YMCA-style. Seeing thousands of black-robed graduates performing the actions in unison is a beautiful thing.

But wait. Something on the grainy video did not seem right.

I played the video again, and then again, as I zeroed in on the problem. I could hardly believe my eyes, but the evidence was irrefutable:

Some of the graduates were doing the “S” wrong.

It is kind of hard to mess up the “O”; you simply form a loop with your arms. Similarly, for the “U”, one only has to raise both hands. They both read the same forwards and backwards, and don’t require too much intelligence, which is why that other school to the south sticks to only those two letters. At oh ESS you, though, students are held to a higher standard. One that involves more letters—50% more letters—and a letter that requires a bit more skill. To make an “S”, you have to curve your left arm up, I’m-a-little-teapot style, and curve your right arm down in an equal but opposite fashion. Left arm up, and right arm down, ensures that you will spell an “S” when viewed from the opposing stands, rather than an embarrassing “Z”.

This minor point is of such importance that it is literally the first thing taught to students as they enter the school. It is explained at Freshman assemblies the weekend before classes begin. If my memory serves me correctly, it was first taught to me during registration, 3 months before the start of school. It is then put into practice at every sporting event, as a vital part of some of the most popular cheers and pep songs, as part of the fight song, and, of course, as the end of the Alma Mater. The Alma Mater that is played at the conclusion of every single home football and basketball game. The same Alma Mater that these supposed graduates were singing in the video on my computer screen.

And yet, a handful of grads were still spelling “OZU”.

This is unacceptable.

Sure, it is a gaff that can be laughed off during the first one or two football games of the fall, when you are a freshman. It is something you are learning, still have to consciously think about, and will perhaps mess up on in the heat of the moment.

But that is September of freshman year we are talking about. These people were graduates. They had been in school for 4 years (or, if they are like me, 6 years) and should have made that simple “S” a thousand times. Sure, people have the right to make mistakes; how else do you explain the continued existence of the college in Norman? But after a while, it does become automatic, and you do get it right 100% of the time. Even if you are dyslexic, you still know which arm is your left, right? (Er, “correct”?)

Which makes me wonder, should these OZU people really be allowed to graduate? I mean, knowing your basic letters should be a prerequisite for getting out of grade school, let alone college.

I am not seriously suggesting that the people in question do not know how to read and write. This is not aggie joke territory. But I do question whether they were really part of the school. Didn’t they ever go to a football game, or a Homecoming parade, or Camp Cowboy? Did they just stay holed up in the library all of the time? Whatever happened to “don’t let schooling interfere with your education”? What, are we now giving out college degrees for simply passing classes?

These people probably don’t even know the correct words to the “Hey Hey” song.

Since graduates are not handed a real diploma at graduation, pending final test scores, it is not too late. I am submitting whatever photographic evidence I have, and whoever is playing President at OSU right now can decide how to proceed. I would suggest at least withholding a diploma until they have attended 3 wrestling matches, performed 20 hours of community service “pomping”, and can spell the dadgum “OSU” correctly.

And for you incoming freshmen: it’s only college. Class and sleep are optional. Standing until the home team scores and cheering loudly on defense are both mandatory.

Oh, and it is left arm up, right arm down.

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