This past Sunday was Boston University’s commencement. In the weeks leading up the long fours days of formal festivities surrounding the end of the academic year, the excitement begins to build. This was my seventh time covering BU’s commencement, and at this point I find it exciting rather than stressful. That is mostly because the whole thing is a well-oiled machine. We know what to do at this point, we know what to expect, and the photo department staff are, like, wicked good at all of it.
This year’s most exciting addition to the platform party (those who sit on the stage during the commencement for one reason or another) was David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz was one of five recipients of an honorary degree this year. I admit that I am not a baseball fan. I don’t really follow the Sox, and even I know who Big Papi is.
My day started in the VIP Robing Room – a nice lounge set-up to provide a space for VIPs to socialize and get ready for the ceremony. Ortiz arrived in the Robing Room lounge quite a bit earlier than anyone else. The minute he stepped through the door I was taken by his size. The guy’s got presence. I don’t generally get star-struck (the camera is a nice emotional barricade), but I found I was thinking to myself I wonder if he’ll do a selfie with me. In the end I just didn’t have the guts to ask. It felt too unprofessional and I just didn’t want to impose.
My job in the Robing Room is to photograph a collection of people. VIPs (honorary degree recipients, and Metcalf Cup and Prize Winners) receive a special photo album down the road of their commencement experience, and photos taken in the robing room are included in that album. I was very aware that there were many people “of note” that I needed to also pay attention to and get nice photos of, so I really had to concentrate to not just linger around Ortiz. This was tricky because not only is he photogenic, but the way people behaved around him made for great photos. There was a giddiness there that was uncommon in this particular group of people, and it was fun to see. So I was toggling back and forth between photographing Ortiz with people, and photographing people with people who weren’t Ortiz.
Throughout this hour, I observed Ortiz, but didn’t talk to him. I’m sure I smiled at him or some lame attempt at a smile, but mostly I just observed (with a cool, nonchalant, I Do This All The Time distance, as you might imagine). I noticed that people would stand next to him for a photo and almost lean in from a safe distance as though they were worried he’d bite. No one would touch him aside from shaking his hand. I dismissed this to be a result of him seeming a bit stand-offish, wearing glasses that made it not possible to look him in the eye, and a stature that seemed unapproachable.
He graciously met anyone interested in meeting him, and even signed things that people brought him to autograph. He was accommodating. When the president of the university and his wife approached, however, Ortiz’s demeanor (or really, what I perceived to be his demeanor), seemed to change. Ortiz had a subtle excitement to him, as if he were now meeting someone of note. With Ortiz and President Brown, it was like a meeting of The Mutual Admiration Society. That’s when I realized (possibly incorrectly, obviously I don’t know this man) that Ortiz was honored to be there, and maybe even a little nervous.
Editing the photos today, I thought back on my observation about him being unapproachable and I noticed something in the photos. In truth, there was little in his demeanor that made him unapproachable. Yes, he had glasses on which blocked his eyes, and he played with his two phones a lot (who knows, maybe his car’s in the shop and he needs to find out when it will be done!) but he didn’t stand with arms crossed or with both hands in his pockets. In all my photos, if someone simply stood next to him, he did the same, often with one arm to his side, and one hand in a pocket. But if someone put and arm around him, male or female, he returned the gesture with a small, perfectly warm smile.
It always makes he shake my head at myself when I judge someone in this manner, since I am often viewed as unapproachable by others, even though I’m actually pretty friendly (once a person dares engage with me). And I don’t even have to give autographs (I would not have the patience for that stuff)!
Click here to see a few photos from the robing room. It’s a collection you can click through. I would post some here but they are the property of BU and posting them here would make them easy to take, which I’m not cool with.
Off the topic of my possibly inaccurate sociological observations and back to commencement. Once the Robing Room is emptied out, I headed down to the field where I joined (probably too many) other photographers as the students file in, followed by the faculty and platform “party”.
I spend the next hour wandering the field looking for little moments to capture of the graduating students. I had been doing this for maybe 45 minutes when the next most memorable experience of this year’s commencement happened. I heard a male voice call out to me “Hey, Honey!”
I turned around and made eye contact with the guy who had said this to me. He looked right back at me form a sea of red robes. He was sitting maybe eight people in on his row. I looked at him for beat and without skipping another one I said incredulously “Did you just…HONEY…me?!”
This is where a smart person would realize what he said, apologize, and address me again in a more appropriate manner. This is also the part where, when I was relaying this story to my friend Ben, he quickly reacted with “Oh this is not gonna end well.”
Unfortunately, this boy was not a smart person, and he simply answered “Yes,” and added “Honey can you take out picture?”
“Nnnnnnooo” I said, “No I cannot.”
“Just one picture!” he tried again.
To which I responded curtly, “No…No, we’re good here. You can photograph yourself” and walked away from that part of the field.
It didn’t upset me. It was more like a Can you believe that a@#hole? type of situation.
So anyway, at 2:30 I left the field and got a ride over to the president’s home where a big swanky party is hosted after the commencement. I go first to photograph the set-up and my colleague Jackie comes a half hour later and we shoot away as people chat and enjoy themselves over incredible food in a beautiful ambience. It was about a half hour into this part of the day when I realized I do not have the stamina I used to. EVERYTHING hurt! At the end of it all though, I was happy with the hard day of work and the pics that resulted, so I have no complaints, honey!