High school and college graduations mark an important point in time. The annual exercise of receiving one’s diploma signifies the end of another school year, the start of summer, and the promise of a new chapter in life.
However, graduation season requires more than cake, family pictures, a gown that seems to be made from the same unbreathable plastic as a trash bag, and a mortarboard that never fits properly.
It requires music, and there’s only one song that is needed. That’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick, better known as Vitamin C.
Though the song was released in early 2000, it rises like the phoenix every spring to provide the soundtrack to graduation season. Every time I hear it, I sing along and remember how much I love it. It’s an earworm that ages like a fine wine.
Of course, for the most recent high school graduates, it might sound like a brand-new song since they weren’t even alive when it first debuted, but the more they hear it, the more likely they are to become fans. And for those of us who were alive and well when it hit the charts, the song ushers in a wave of nostalgia.
I could be wrong, but I distinctly remember the song playing during my eighth-grade graduation ceremony. At that time, the song was truly new, and every time I hear it, I am transported back in time.
No. I don’t remember anything else about my eighth-grade graduation except sitting in the gym on a folding chair as that song played, but then other memories from high school and my early college days flash through my mind, sparked by the iconic violin string opening that kicks off Vitamin C’s biggest hit.
Such an experience shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, scholar Alexander Stein pointed out, music exists as a type of language that creates memories, so when we hear a song, those memories get pulled up from the depths of our minds and brought to the forefront.
Everyone has at least one song that evokes strong memories. It could be from a happy event like a wedding or a sad event like a funeral. Maybe a particular song reminds you of a specific person, or another song might be linked forever to a certain movie. Regardless, music and songs serve as labels in our minds’ filing cabinets of memories.
This positions music as a powerful force in our lives. In fact, it might be key to human evolution.
This is because music can support social function and cohesion by providing a communal experience that can encourage discussions to interpret songs and spur moving and grooving to the beat, also known as dancing. Stefan Koelsch pointed out such ideas in his 2014 Nature Reviews Neuroscience article, in which he also wrote the following: “Music triggers engagement in social functions and is thus directly related to the fulfillment of basic human needs, such as contact and communication with other humans, cooperation, social cohesion and social attachments.”
Therefore, music can build cultural identity and be a historical record of a community’s heritage, and it can help individuals process events they’ve experienced. For example, listening to sad music when you are sad can result in an improved mood, which is likely because of the connections people have with music.
Those connections allow Alzheimer disease patients to be treated with music because music allows the patients to retrieve associated memories. In fact, as research by Amy Belfi, Brett Karlan, and Daniel Tranel found, “memories evoked by music are more vivid than those evoked by pictures of famous persons, and that face-evoked memories contain more information not relevant to the central memory. This lends support to the prevalent belief that music is especially suited to evoke vivid” memories and emotional responses.
Such findings clearly resonate with me, and that’s why the power and benefits of music are so fascinating.
After all, Vitamin C normally supports your immune system, but Colleen Fitzpatrick’s Vitamin C does something even more important by transporting us down a memory lane illuminated by light as golden as her Day-Glo, fluorescent orange hair.
Looking back at the past through rose-colored glasses has nothing on the nostalgia cued up by the right music.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.
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