Saturday marks the send off for another graduating Cal Poly class. As students toss their caps in the air, some are relieved about finishing five years worth of work, some thinking about the future, and some are, well, too drunk to care.
Graduation being one of the two days out of the year that bars open doors at 6 a.m., — aside from St. Patrick’s Day — students flock downtown for one last hurrah, celebrating with family and friends.
And families don’t hold back on participating.
Buck, a bartender at Frog and Peach, said moms and dads celebrate just as much as their graduating children.
“It’s fun to see the parents — they’re the ones who are usually paying for it. It’s just not students. It’s all the people that they bring with them. You see moms doing Jägerbombs and not knowing what they are,” Buck said.
McCarthy’s bartender Jerry, who has worked graduation morning during the last 20 years, said the bar-hopping morning is a happy one.
“Everybody’s glad that the kids are graduating. And we do get a lot of moms and dads that come in and drink with their sons and daughters,” Jerry said.
Whether parents escort their graduates early Saturday morning to reminisce on college experiences or celebrate the end of tuition payments, the 6 a.m. tradition has become an event for everyone — not just the students. Other bartenders said the morning is simply a good time.
Bulls bartender Rich Reynolds, who has seen lines of 50 people outside the bar at 5:45 a.m. for the past two years, said it’s nice to see parents sharing a few drinks with their sons and daughters.
“I’m not saying that we hoop and holler and have shots, but it’s more of a social thing and they’re here with their friends and family. It’s really more about this is their last chance to come down before you graduate,” Reynolds said.
Despite the enjoyment of seeing moms take tequila shots before the sun rises, there are always students who take it too far. Past commencement ceremonies have been interrupted by graduates who have had a little too much. Director of Student Life and Leadership Ken Barclay recalls a few moments when the Jägerbombs took too big of a hit.
“Several years ago, this girl was so sick she left the ceremony, went to the bushes, and vomited. So she was wiped out for the ceremony. Last year we had to turn away a girl because she couldn’t stand up,” Barclay said. “It’s sad that people on an important day of their lives which should be a really wonderful time, make some poor choices.”
Barclay said that commencement should be a memorable time with family and friends rather than a day of discomfort — despite how long students have been at Cal Poly.
“In my view, why do something that’s going to make you sick or jeopardize your enjoyment? Even if you’re here six years or 10 years, to me, it’s still a special time,” Barclay said.
Most students seem indifferent to the situation. Graduating architecture senior Vince Cimo said the early morning bar run is a boost for local businesses.
“If the bars have been doing it for this long and it’s profitable for them to do it because kids are excited about graduating and want to experience the bars early for one last time. If they’re making money and it’s beneficial for the kids, why the hell not?” Cimo said.
However, the physical and mental state of students on graduation day is up to them, Cimo said.
“Graduation’s all about saying you’re your own person and in control of your own actions. And if you choose to show up to graduation drunk and make an ass of yourself in front of your entire family and colleagues and professors, then that’s your deal,” Cimo said.
And students have indeed made asses of themselves. Graduate student Ron Sloat recalls his graduation day last June when one student let it all hang out.
“Last year, one guy smuggled a bunch of beer onto the graduation field, and he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the speech, so he lifted his gown and just went for it. He was at that point where he didn’t care anymore,” Sloat said. “I can only imagine — what if a parent had a 10 to 20x zoom on their cameras trying to take picture of their daughter on the field, and looking back at it 20 years from now going, ‘Oh my god what is that?’”
Although it may be a hilarious memory to some, school officials said they want students to focus on the ceremony in good health. Commencement Assistant Marie Cole said she hopes that those participating are in good condition.
“Participating the commencement ceremonies is a choice — it’s not something that’s just automatic. So if a student chooses to participate in it, I would think that you’d want to feel good doing it,” Cole said. “The vast majority of students do just fine. There are always just a few who can’t seem to handle it and make the choice to function at a level that doesn’t feel good.”
And despite the good business, bartenders don’t condone getting completely smashed before the ceremony. McCarthy’s bartender Jerry said students should be old enough to know their limits.
“By the time that they’ve graduated, they should be mature adults and be able to be in control of their own life. We serve them, and if they drink too much, then shame on them,” Jerry said. “And when we see a person getting a little drunk, we guide them out the door and send them on their way. We’re not here to make people miss graduation, we’re here to help them celebrate.”
Students have the choice over their well-being (and that of their parents) on commencement day. Yet whether the drink of choice Saturday morning is coffee or Kahlua, it’s time to celebrate.