While the caps and gowns harken back to medieval times, the event is all about today. For years, students have labored with their studies, taken classes they've enjoyed, despised or felt neutral about, been subjected to tests they've tolerated or at worst - hated, written papers, been impacted by things they'll remember for a lifetime or forget the next day, made lasting friendships, partied, gotten involved in romantic relationships that will create their new family or end up on the scrap heap as a story to remember - or forget - that involved months, weeks, or years of their lives. They have fallen asleep in class, paid attention to their lecturers or zoned out for countless minutes. They've laughed, cried, longed for home, or commuted. Some have gotten involved in university and/or social organizations and some have not. But...all of them become the same on that very special day. They are college graduates.
Days, weeks, and years later, memories will float back about this fact or class, that person or event - each one of which will ignite a spark about their college days. Certainly the loans will need to be paid and the alumni magazines, e-mails, and postcards will appear. However, something of substance will have been gained. Through everything else...they've learned an immeasurable lesson about life. Another chapter has been closed. Perhaps some will re-open it on another level. An advanced degree may be in the offing, and they may grab the opportunity. For others...they will take a different path. Yet all of them are connected - forever.
In my role as a professor, these students also become friends. People with hopes and dreams. Some will be fulfilled, others not. Yet...through it all, they've arrived. Now...they will face the remainder of their lives and hopefully triumph. I doubt very much whether students realize the effect they have on their teachers. After all...we are people too. And - for a semester, or two, or three, they are our children. We really care about them and what life holds for their present and future. Now...as we see them accept their diplomas, we are proud - as any parent would be. And yes - we hope they make good decisions, that we taught them well, they learned and grew, and whatever chapter is next in their lives, that it is filled with health, love, success, and good deeds.