While I agree that shodan is meant ot be the first of many. I would say it is a big deal with the change in Uniform and change in testing procedure (kyu tests are done in our dojoin front of our senseis, dan tests are done at major seminars in front of a panel of shihans with what feels like the whole world watching).
I totally agree - while I understand the concept as well that 'Shodan is the beginning' - in a way it feels like that it has been somewhat trivialized amongst the Aikido community.
4-5, or even 7-10 years of your life spent in trying to reach black belt is nothing to sneer at.
And is quite a feat and dedication in and of itself. [especially as many of us have family lives, jobs, and other interest.]