Greg Brown

Year of Graduation: 
Greg Brown and his son

"I think about musical punctuation constantly while composing. Is this moment a comma? a question mark? an ellipsis ...?"

Gradus ad Parnassum. Steps to Parnassus. Pray that the road is long.

I think about musical punctuation constantly while composing. Is this moment a comma? a question mark? an ellipsis ...? — We humans enjoy grammar, especially when it clarifies our thoughts and progress. It took our early ancestors a surprisingly long time to figure out the importance of creating space between words and indicating the end of one thought and the beginning of the next. Without those demarcations we are forced to pull the letters and ideas apart from one another like meat from a chicken wing.

I studied geology briefly in college. A concept from invertebrate paleontology stuck with me: punctuated equilibrium. It’s a way of trying to make sense of the long thread of evolution by thinking about biological communities living in relative stasis for long periods of time with moments of change and mutation punctuating the journey.

Gradus ad intellegentiam. Steps to understanding. Pray that the road is long, and full of knowledge.

June 6, 1993: cold and cloudy with threats of rain. Our graduation ceremony is pushed into Love Gymnasium. We are disappointed, but not terribly. I was simply happy to be done. Finished. Give me that fancy piece of paper, Exeter, please and thank you.

May 5, 2001: I am sitting in Princeton Chapel next to a close friend and colleague. We are waiting to receive our Master of Music diplomas and laugh when we realize that we haven’t really ‘mastered’ anything at all. Had we become proficient? Somewhat! But no Masters by any stretch of the imagination. We’re still figuring it out, day by day, phrase by phrase. We weren’t at the end of the story. And we are perhaps not even at the end of the sentence.

June 7, 2020: warm sun. We are on the patio in our backyard, relatives safely distant either on lawn chairs at the edge of the yard or entirely remote via videoconference. We make our own music and give our own commencement speeches. My older child seems bemused by the fuss we are making over his ceremony.

June 4, 2023: another rainy and windy day, but this time outdoors. Another graduation, another step, this time my younger child’s. We easily ignore the rain and other distractions as we cheer him up the stairway to receive his handshake and fancy piece of paper.

Gradus ad Ithacam. Steps to Ithaka. Pray that the road is long, and full of adventure.

Co-parenting two teenagers through the pandemic was nothing if not adventure. In fall of 2019 we helped our prep and senior move into their dorms, leaving the house quite empty. Six months later we had both children back with us, along with an added bonus child in the form of our older child’s friend from Manhattan, who stayed with us for much of that spring. It was a terrifying time. We had our cozy little enclave against the storm with five simultaneous Zoom calls running much of the time, spidering ourselves virtually into the world. I’m not sure if they understood how comforting it was to have them close as the pandemic’s unpredictable storm clouds blew around us.

...pray that the road is long and punctuated with the sunrises of countless summer mornings ahead — mornings full of joy and new harbors to alight in.

Greg Brown

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared in the summer 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.