• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.



Some advice so you can enjoy the celebration.


May 12, 2017

Friday is graduation at Brookdale. We actually have two ceremonies -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon -- to make room for all the grads.  

I don’t know how many graduations I’ve been to over the years, but it’s a lot. (DeVry used to do three per year, which bumped up the numbers.) They still manage to win me over. And I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I still fit into the gown I used for grad school...

Having been through both indoor and outdoor versions, I’m a fan of indoor ceremonies. Outdoors can be nice in that you can fit more people, and sometimes you get lucky and catch a beautiful day. For families with small children, letting the children run loose on the lawn can burn off some squiggly energy.  But humidity, or rain, or mud, or heat, or bees can wreak havoc. (I’ve experienced all of those.) The bees were the worst. I’ve never seen a major bee attack indoors, though I’ll concede the conceptual possibility. The acoustics are usually better indoors, too, which comes in handy during the speeches and the reading of names.

The highlight, always, is seeing the families beaming when the students appear. Sometimes students will seek out their favorite professors for hugs and photos. And there are usually some stories of triumph over adversity that feature so much adversity that it puts my own gripes into humbling perspective.  For some families, this is the first college graduation they’ve ever experienced. For some students, it’s a milestone they never thought they’d attain. Those moments deserve respect. This isn’t the time to be jaded.

Graduation speeches are a tough genre. I’ve never delivered one, though I wrote at the pit of the Great Recession (thanks to Chuck Pearson for digging it up) that I think holds up pretty well. If I were to deliver it now, I’d simplify some of the sentence structures and drop one off-key paragraph, but the basic thesis still seems about right.

The general rule for a graduation speaker is the classic "be brief, be upbeat, be seated." Among all of the ceremonies I’ve seen, I’ve never heard anyone lament that the speech was too short. When in doubt, cut. If you’re a current or former President of the United States, you will be remembered just for having shown up, regardless of what you say. Otherwise, you probably won’t be remembered at all. Honor the occasion by making it about the occasion, not about you. Brief, upbeat, done.  

If you’re on the platform party, don’t look at your phone. People will see you. Some people may take embarrassing videos of you, and post them. If you’re bored, watch the shoes as the graduates walk by. I’m always impressed at the sheer variety of footwear. It’s not weird to see five-inch heels followed closely by Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Flashing lights are a nice touch. I’d advise against “heelies,” though, given the possibility of falling. Also, if you don’t usually wear significant heels, this isn’t the time to experiment. Between the ramps and the gowns, it could get ugly. Word to the wise.

So, on to the ceremonies. Congratulations to the graduates, and kudos to the parents, grandparents, spouses, friends, children, and everyone else who provided the support. As a colleague recently put it, if it takes a village, then the audience is the Village People. Enjoy the show.

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Matt Reed

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