In Geometry, if one took a Cartesian graph with lines donating values of x and y, and wrapped it around a cylinder so that the left side matched up with the right side, the result would be a graph that might still have a highest and lowest value, but would now have no left or right value. Thus, in a sense, there would be no beginning or end, since beginnings and endings no longer exist separate from each other. I found myself thinking of this as we approach our graduation ceremony tonight. What is an ending for our students is also, in a sense, a beginning for them, too. As they end their undergraduate careers, they will begin the rest of their lives.
As I look down the list of students who will be graduating this evening, I am struck by the amazing stories that lie behind the names. Some of our graduates are older than I am, perhaps some even older than my mother would have been. Some have overcome serious disabilities, and some have not let mistakes stand in the way of their dreams. The number of Math majors graduating is small, but I will see many students I have taught along the way, as they fulfilled requirements for their major and the core curriculum. Many of the students will begin jobs soon after tonight, but many others are pursing graduate work. As their names get called out later today, I know that I will be proud of each and every one of them.
As I read the list, I see students who came to Ursuline after “swirling” through much larger universities, only to finally be able to graduate once they were seen as whole people rather than as anonymous figures in a lecture hall. I see students who did not let teenage mistakes keep them from reaching their lifelong goals. I see students who have overcome challenges, both financial and physical, to earn the honor of walking across the stage tonight, and I know stories of how families have sacrificed greatly to allow their children, or perhaps their mother, earn the college degree they so desired. I even see the name of one student who completed a group project in my class through Skype, working with her group members from a hospital bed. I am amazed at what they have done, some under very difficult conditions.
I have shared parenting tips with my students and held their babies on my hips. I cooed over photographs of their children, and they have done the same in response to pictures of my daughter. I am happy to say that I have learned much about parenting from my students, and it is possible that I learned more about being a parent from them than they learned about Math from me.
As our students move their tassels from one side to the other tonight, I recall a statement made by a speaker at my own graduation. He (in those days, of course, it was a “he”) noted that the entire ceremony is actually about beginnings. “After all, what we do is called ‘commencement.’ ”
The end is actually a beginning.
Congratulations to all of our graduates and best of luck as you continue with what I know will be amazing lives!
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