May 12th, 2009

Reflecting on Graduation


I hope that graduation is one of those ceremonies that never goes out of style. It’s such a big deal for students and their families, and I think it’s a big event for faculty, as well. It just doesn’t feel as though the school year has properly ended without participation in graduation.

Faculty enjoy the occasion because it means the grading for this semester is finally over. That’s always a relief. It’s also about sharing the celebration with our favorite students—the ones we advised, our majors, those who took more than one of our courses, who stopped by the office to chat—the ones we’ll really and truly miss. Graduation is the chance to see those students who have come the furthest—the ones we really didn’t expect to make it, given our first encounters with them in class. No, they aren’t graduating with honors, but they made it and that may represent a bigger accomplishment than the really bright grads with those GPAs pushing 4.0. And finally, there are those students (usually just a few) we are just glad to see go. Most of these students have reputations among faculty, and their march across the stage is accompanied with more than the normal amount of applause from the faculty section.

It’s a fun event, filled with celebration and a few accolades for faculty, if we’re lucky.

I had another less positive thought about graduation, though. I started wondering what it would be like to be at an event where the students who enrolled two or four years ago but then dropped out might march past us for review. Would we be surprised by the number? Would their average GPAs be something other than what we expected? How many of them would we expect to see employed and employed doing what? What would they say about their experience in college and their decisions not to continue?

Graduation is not a dark event and I don’t want to make it one. We have every reason to celebrate right along with our students and their families. Our investments of time, energy, and hard work allow us to own part of these students’ success. I just don’t want us to forget that for every graduate there are others who aren’t getting a degree. For a while they were on campus and in our courses. It is a day for remembering them, too, as we reflect on the role teachers play in every student’s success or lack of it.