Commencing Countdown

University of Venus writers share their stories of the season.


May 23, 2017

For many of us in higher education, May is commencement season. This is often the time when we get to experience the visible results of all of our hard work - work that is often hidden in late-night email exchanges with students or heartbreaking office hour meetings.

University of Venus writers share their most inspiring end-of-year stories below:

Janni Aragon, University of Victoria, BC, Canada:

I participate in the two Political Science commencement ceremonies each year. I am either in the faculty procession or a “rober,” which means that I manage a dressing room and assist students with their robes, then I shadow them at commencement to their seats and then to celebrate with their families. I want to celebrate their achievement and see their smiling faces at commencement. It’s bittersweet, since I am also a bit sad to see them leave. However, it is fantastic to also meet their loved ones. I take photos of them and I am photographed with them. I try to not miss commencement. Occasionally, I will bring cards for my mentees and give them the graduation card after the ceremony. I always have tissue in my pockets, as the ceremony is always a bit emotional--cue the happy sighs and tears in my eyes.

Mary Churchill, Wheelock College, Boston, MA, USA:

One of the many rewards of being an administrator at commencement time is celebrating the success of your staff members who are doing a double shift as students at your institution. Both my partner and I put ourselves through graduate school by working full-time as staff/administrators at our institutions, so this double shift is highly relatable on a personal level. As a full-time administrator, our employees who are also our students can provide an opportunity to develop deeper insight on what’s working and what’s not. I was particularly fortunate to have that type of relationship with a young woman at my prior institution. Not only was she a full-time staff member and a graduate student, she was also a mother of a young child and a former international student. I couldn’t be prouder of this amazing woman.  

Yves Salomon-Fernandez, Cumberland County, NJ, USA

Leading an institution in a county where about 15% of the population has a Bachelor’s degree or above, commencement is a significant life achievement. At our college, we hold two graduations: one for Bachelor’s and Master’s degree graduates, and another for the Associate degree and certificate recipients. Elated graduates, the sense of optimism, the tears of joy, the struts on stage, the tight embraces, and even the beach ball that I, as president, threw onto the crowd made the day extra special. What was most moving for me this season was seeing the little babies, the toddlers, and the teenagers clinging onto or looking at their parents with joy and pride, and knowing that a family’s life trajectory has already been changed for the better. The feeling of knowing that the probability of each mother’s or father’s child entering and completing college has increased because their parent is now a college graduate reminded me of why I do this work. Commencement this year was extra special because where I call home and work, Cumberland County, New Jersey, needs stronger higher education attainment rates.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

I inherited my love of commencement from my faculty father.  I leap at the chance to don my egregiously orange Princeton robes and sit on the stage as my charges embark on the challenges ahead.  As I stand in line, I often hear others begrudgingly admit it is  “their turn” to represent the department and march.  I relate better to other - typically older - faculty who, like my now-emeritus dad, see commencement as an annual opportunity to celebrate life’s transitions.  One of my father’s favorite expressions is “hatch, match, and dispatch.”  These are the great life events organized religions and communities of all sorts gather to mark. Commencement falls outside the biological life cycle.  You can graduate at 18 or 80. Commencement marks a transition not in body but in mind.  At Northwestern, the alumni celebrating their 50th reunion join the new graduates before the podium to enjoy whatever words of wisdom come their way.  I like the symbolic value.  Wisdom knows no age, but deserves celebration at any age.  I am happy to cede my vanity and look like a mutant fruit in order to take part and cheer.

Gwendolyn Beetham, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

At a large institute like Rutgers, the actual university-wide graduate ceremony is an intimidating affair - there are so many graduates that it is held in the football stadium and it is completely impersonal (though last year I did attend, as our commencement speaker was President Obama!). The ceremonies that tend to mean more to my students are the smaller events, such as the Rites of Passage Ceremony organized by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, or our own convocation ceremony at Douglass Residential College. I love the Douglass ceremony because it allows students to celebrate their accomplishments with the friends that they’ve made during their time at Douglass - which is essentially a small liberal arts college in the middle of a large research institution. I also love my role as student marshal for the procession, because it means I get to stand beside each student and congratulate them as they prepare to go on stage. I feel so proud!

What is your story? What inspires you? Share in the comments below or on Twitter at @UVenus.


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