Graduation Day

I have a wonderful job.

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Every year I get reminded of that fact on graduation day. It’s not that I don’t feel it at other times; I do, of course, even in the midst of all the less-than-fulfilling elements of my job. But on graduation day, no matter where I am emotionally and intellectually, I can’t ever forget what a lucky person I am to be doing the work I get to do as a college professor.

One of the most beautiful things about my job is the cycle of things. There is a pace to the work year, and a process that is part of that pace playing out. Classes begin and end. Students come and go. They begin as first years and leave after (we hope) four years. Our year has a beginning, and an end.

Today is that end. Graduation day brings an end to the year and to the process. It’s also about the next phase, the new beginning. It’s about the cycle.

On this day I am reminded about the power of education. I don’t mean this in the simplistic, neoliberal hope that the “individual” can improve their economic lot in life with a college degree. On days like this, I am reminded of the power of education despite this individualistic, market-driven ethos. I am reminded of what it can mean for a society like ours, for young people–people that are parts of communities whose worth and humanity has been measured by our distance from an education–to receive their degrees.

It’s an achievement for many of us to earn our degrees. But it’s also bigger than us. It’s an achievement that makes an impact on our families, our friends, and other loved ones. Watching the faces today, seeing the young adults I get to work with celebrate with their families, I can’t help but be grateful.

I am also amazed.

There are so many students for whom this is not a challenge. For many (perhaps especially at my college) this is just another step in a life of unfolding opportunity. It’s a rite of passage for them, and for their families.

For a precious few (perhaps especially at my college) this is a big deal. I am constantly amazed at the students who beat the odds; at the ones who did it all while bringing their families and their hearts along; at the ones who did it alone, but by carrying the spirits of those who loved them; at the ones who came, who showed us how amazing they are, and who leave more educated and still whole.

Academia in the 21st century United States produces a diverse set of workplaces. In lots of ways, the business model of higher education is undergoing a transformation. That produces changes in the work we do, the ways we do it, and the ways we feel about it.

I’d like to think that this is the part of the job that remains real, that remains sustaining in the face of all the rest.

I feel lucky to be a part of this process in the lives of others.  I feel lucky to get to learn with them. And I feel lucky to create spaces where they can discover, be challenged, and learn with each other and for themselves.

It’s been a great year because of these people. 

2 thoughts on “Graduation Day

  1. I always loved being a part of graduation. It’s funny, because I wasn’t much of a fan of my own. But I liked being there to watch my students’ ceremonies. I was never much for “dressing up” when teaching … I may have been the slobbiest professor in Cal history. But when I put on the robes for graduation, I understood it as part of my role for the day. No matter how hot it got, I kept my robes on long after the ceremony, so that I could meet the parents of my students. Nothing makes a parent happier than to take pride in their kids, and with my robes on, I looked just like the most important Nobel Prize winner. So when I told a parent how much I enjoyed their kids, the robes gave it extra weight. It was a good feeling all around.

  2. That’s it in a nutshell. I love the robes. It’s such a great role to play. Knowing what it meant to me and my family makes that role feel especially good to fill.

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