On attending graduation


Do you attend graduation?

On every campus, the formal expectation is that all faculty attend graduation. Nonetheless, not everyone goes. On some campuses, such as mine, only a small fraction of faculty go. We have so few faculty attend that it’s downright embarrassing to stand in such a small group of faculty among the massive throng of reveling graduates.

Who doesn’t attend graduation? For starters, those who aren’t available don’t go.

Who else doesn’t go? I guess it’s those faculty who wouldn’t enjoy it. There’s a lot to not enjoy. It could be really hot, it has some major tedium with all of those names, and it sucks up a good part of your weekend.

What is there to enjoy about graduation? It’s a celebration and you get to be adjacent to the center of it. The pomp can be fun. You get to meet the joyful families of your students, and you can express your pride in your students’ work and accomplishments. At my university, this is a huge deal, because in a goodly-sized fraction of these families the students are the first ones to graduate from college, and for many, graduation is an endpoint of perseverance through both economic and personal challenges on a scale with which I’m not familiar. The successes of these students is genuinely heroic to me. If I was dealt the cards that they were, I don’t know if I would have been as successful. So I attend with great pride.

I also go because it matters to my chair, and keeping him happy is important to keeping me happy. And he’s a great guy, and graduation is not a hardship by any means.

We spend a good piece of our careers working with our students, and while graduation better not be the end of their education it does mark a major milestone. If you look out at the students, it’s a condensed mixture of pleasure, pride, satisfaction and trepidation. This kind of drama is something to savor.

And, you never know, the commencement address might not be the same trite stuff. (I missed one graduation a few years ago which was an absolute train wreck for which apparently no explanation can do justice, and I’m sad I missed it.) I imagine the faculty who attended the ’05 Kenyon College ceremony are glad they went.

If you take pleasure in your students, then go on, go to graduation. You don’t have to go. But if you only did the things you had to, you wouldn’t be happy for doing your job well.

3 thoughts on “On attending graduation

  1. Good point! I have never attended my own graduations, as it meant leaving a paying job and spending money, but I better do so for my doctorate because I don’t think I will get any more chances.

  2. I agree completely. When you are a teacher who works closely with undergrads, attending graduation has some real rewards attached to it, in terms of affirming the value of the work you do. Meeting some of the families, and having the chance to “see students off,” into the next phase of their life helps me feel a sort of cycle of completion. This year, for the first time in eight years, I will miss the commencement ceremony (I have a conflicting professional obligation), and I truly regret it.

    As an aside, I am at Kenyon College, and I can tell you that DFW’s “This is water…” is still legendary among faculty around here. Unfortunately for me, that was the year before I started…

    • Yeah, I’ve always thought, when at graduation, that this is a chance to see humanity at close to its best. It’s neat to know that the DFW address is seen this way (I might have guessed, but then again, the world often disagrees with presumptions.)

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