Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Post Commencement Rant

Posted by Gerald on May 13, 2008

It is 11:30 and I just got back from a post-commencement dinner with a couple of my friends and co-workers.

I’m not going to re-cap the ceremony – commencements are pretty standard and this was no exception -except for one thing that is really bothering me.  I made a last minute suggestion about the program which the organizers agreed to.  After hearing a couple of my colleagues talking about what really mattered to them at their commencement ceremonies, I suggested that after the recessional I should lead the faculty over to where the new grads were picking up their diplomas (like many colleges we do this separately since you can’t be sure who might actually be there – it minimizes confusion).  There was an outdoor reception and my thought was that we would line up on either side of the sidewalk running between the tables where they were picking up their diplomas and where the food was laid out.  This would allow us to congratulate the new grads – applause and hand-shakes directly from their instructors.  Well, I led them.

About ten actually joined me.

Everyone else ran over to get free food and drinks, then dropped their robes in their offices and left.

It will be no surprise to my regular readers to hear that my social science colleagues all came over.  So did my good friend Steve and a couple people from his department, two of the ladies who teach cosmetology, and the dean of our division.  Conspicuous with their absence were several people who like to give long speeches about their dedication to their teaching and their students.

I’m increasingly angry, though not particularly surprised.

I’m not surprised because many of these people started complaining the minute we lined up.  When I announced what we were doing, a Senate colleague of mine who likes to talk about how dedicated she is looked at me incredulously and said “Well whose bright idea was that!?!”  It took all I had not to snap back – “Mine, bitch!”

I know I’ve been heard to complain loudly (and on this blog) about unmotivated and uncaring students, but the majority of those people never finish.  For the rest, this is the only commencement most of these people are ever going to have.  Most of them aren’t the gifted or the well-prepared.  Those who make it through are a minority, and most of them had to put forward a lot more effort for their two-year degree than I did for mine.  I was always good at school.  Most of them aren’t.  If we think what we are doing is worthwhile, then this damn ceremony is the symbolic moment when the rubber meets the road.  We should take it seriously and remember it, like the whole damn thing, is supposed to be about them, not us.  Sure, many of them – maybe most – don’t care, but we are doing this for the ones who do. 

I get that it was a long ceremony, etc…, but if my seven-months pregnant department chair could run (figuratively) over for a much needed bathroom break and then come and join us, the rest could have as well.  It is easy to talk a good game about commitment to students and dedication, and all this crap but it is by showing up for a little thing like this – little to us but obviously touching to many of those students – that gives those words meaning.  If the faculty are going to demonstrate this kind of apathy, why should we expect anything different from our students.  If we are to lead we must do first by example.

Tonight I’m more proud than I can express of the friends and colleagues who joined me on that short line and who tried to make up in enthusiasm for what we lacked in numbers.  I’m ashamed of the rest.  Maybe that isn’t being fair or reasonable, but I really don’t care.

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5 Responses to “Post Commencement Rant”

  1. bridgett said

    Now you’re making me feel bad that I didn’t go to our Commencement. I had a daughter to take to dance class and the other parent was attending the Commencement in his capacity as director of fancy-pants think tank — we hold our ceremony in a big outdoor concert venue (I always want to bring a lighter and request Free Bird). I would have gone, but only one of us can go to these things at a time due to childcare issues and John’s favorite student (Omar) was graduating and getting to do the class speech for the seniors. Surprisingly, Omar quoted John in his valedictory address and name-checked him; that was kind of embarrassing, but also sort of cool. John doesn’t have a whole lot of confidence in his teaching abilities sometime, so that was a big moment.

    I did take all my seniors out to lunch, however, before the Phi Alpha Theta senior ceremony. That was kind of nice.

    I find it a good rule to categorically mistrust people who a) make a point of telling me how student-centered they are; b) tell me how politically progressive they are; or c) try to impress upon me how smart they are. I’ll know you by your works, buddy.

  2. imfunny2 said

    I wonder now how many faculty that I dealt with actually showed for my Commencement….I wasn’t paying attention really…

  3. bridgett said

    I think it was mandatory that the faculty had to show at Hiram…I know that they had to take part (in robes) in the opening Convo as part of their contractual duties.

  4. Gerald said

    Hey, Mom duty always comes first – anyone with sense knows that. One of my good friends was absent from commencement for similar reasons.

    I know that some of the students could care less – maybe even most – but we deal, almost be definition, with the most “at-risk” population in higher ed. Over one-third of our students need preparatory-level courses to even get to college level. Many of them have no confidence and are sometimes having to fight family and social pressures that are telling them that education is a waste of time. Some of those people (young and old) become very dependent on teachers who will encourage and help them.

    I might have been naive, however, to think our presence matters to most students. Commencement is mandatory for us, but not for them, so I thought the ones who were there were likely to be the ones who would care about little things like what I tried to do, but maybe not. I’m getting such overwhelming apathy vibes about commencement generally and about this “new tradition” in particular from so many corners (though not all) that I think I need to reconsider. There really is nothing worse – or more pointless – than someone endlessly bugging people about something no one else really cares about.

  5. Steve said

    I don’t think it’s naive. In fact, I think your original inclination is the right one. I distinctly remember the year that Rochelle James (works in admissions; worked with Mandy) graduated. She was so excited about the ceremony and damn near bounced over to see me. At the time, I didn’t really know her that well. I’d done some minor advising for her, but by her reaction at commencement, you would have thought I’d delivered her first born! So, it must have meant something to her that I was there. And I’m not, despite my protestations to the contrary, a heartless bastard. I was, in turn, moved.

    And that’s not the only time I’ve felt that way, or that I’ve had students react to commencement in such a manner. I have to admit that my own graduation ceremonies meant very little to me (I wore shorts to my undergrad ceremony and found Lee Smith’s speech less than inspiring)– and it occurs to me that my attitude is similar to the one you expressed after seeing Clinton. I’m not one for the mob experience. And that’s what graduation feels like to me.

    But I recognize the value of these rituals– and I won’t deny or detract from the experience of others. They’ve earned it. The least I can do– the least we can all do– is show them some respect…

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