Given the Circumstance, I Love It

by Joy Donovan on May 28, 2012

Sir Edward Elgar composed a song most seniors in high school just love to hear.

Unlike a lot of people, when I get a graduation announcement, I flip open my calendar to see if I actually can go.

Oh, I know there are those who just sigh because they think they’re receiving a demand for a gift. I take it as a true invitation to an event, and if you don’t want me to ask your family to save me a seat, then don’t send me the announcement.

Yes, I love to attend graduations. I love all those students being honored for their years of hard work. I love the mortar boards. I love the gowns. I love seeing which names were popular for that age group. I love looking at the girls’ shoes.

I don’t usually love the valedictorian’s address because they all say the same thing. It usually goes something like this, “When I first began thinking about what to say to you today, I ….” and then trails off into something way too lofty for an 18-year-0ld who has never lived anywhere other than under Mom’s and Dad’s roof.

What I like best, though, is the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance.”  Sir Edward Elgar, born 155 years ago on June 2, 1857, composed the song in 1901. The name was inspired by a line in Act III from William Shakespeare’s “Othello,” that reads ”Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”

It was never intended to become a graduation tradition. Sir Elgar wrote the music. pfficially ”Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,” for King Edward VII’s coronation. Then when Sir Elgar, being such a big deal and all, received an honorary doctorate at Yale University in 1905, it was played as a recessional in his honor. Soon it became the graduation rage, being played at Princeton, then the University of Chicago and Columbia.

Now, be it by tinny piano or full-blown orchestra, Sir Elgar’s biggest hit just the tune to which everyone graduates. Can you imagine any other tune having so many grandmothers whipping out their hankies than Sir Elgar’s grand march?

Sir Elgar was such a cool dude that he even has a website and a society devoted exclusively to him. Visit, and you’ll be filled with all kinds of details The Elgar Society has cultivated on the man whose music brings tears to eyes across America this time of year.

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