My undergraduate commencement was the academic equivalent of a three-ring circus. (See archives May 2010). I talked my parents and family out of attending and no one except my friend Margaret knew whether or not I was there. My graduate degrees were more personal since they were specific to law and graduate students and both were hooding ceremonies.
And then I began 30 years of attending other people’s graduations. While on some levels all commencements are very similar, on other levels they are unique and our roles in these important events vary depending on the campus culture.
At McMurry, I had many different roles. Sometimes I sat with faculty and staff, sometimes I gave the invocation or benediction. Once I had the honor of reading the citation for the presentation of an honorary degree.
Then I moved to much larger UT-Austin and my role changed significantly. My mom asked if I would be wearing my regalia (no) and being in the processional as at McMurry. I replied that as far as I could tell, my role was to throw myself in front of the Board of Regents members when a protestor threw red paint at them (that never happened, by the way). But for these 11 years, my role was something related to crowd control and security, including lugging a 10-pound cell phone around Memorial Stadium when President Bush was the commencement speaker.
Some commencements feel very formal. Some are a little more relaxed with cheering and lots of noise. Some commencements are large and some smaller. The details change – but what never changes is the feeling of celebration. What never changes is the importance of taking time to mark the tremendous accomplishment of each individual student. Jim Studer, retired Associate Vice Chancellor at University of Texas System, in his keynote speech at our Student Affairs Conference, reminded us that it’s important to attend commencement to remind us how important our work is.
So, in this next week, I hope you all take time to celebrate our students’ accomplishments and remind yourself how integral your work is to students’ success.