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.