I just finished cohosting the fifth of five culminating/celebratory events, run via Zoom, coming out of the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning in the last ten days. I can emcee with no trouble, I can read bios with only a small stumble here and there (damn you, scientific terminology!), and I’m starting to have memorized what fields all the Greek letter honor societies are related to.
Tonight, after the annual Honors Program Awards, I’m struck by the variability of the graduating student experience. When we hold a normal commencement, we see happy families, students proud and showing off to their closest community of supporters. We hear cheers and see students proudly waving diplomas. The sun shines. People cry. I smile so much my face hurts.
Tonight, we read off student names, and they unmuted themselves and shared a little about their degree, and had someone in their home put their honors medallion around their necks. There were lots of proud parents. There were parents who were so proud that they embarrassed their kid on video. There were a few proud partners and friends and roommates. And there were a few folks sitting alone, who put on their own medallions.
I have this feeling that those folks sitting alone are people we wouldn’t see crossing the commencement stage this year, if we were holding commencement. I have this sudden sinking feeling that my 20 years of memories of graduation ceremonies are missing a segment of our graduates, who don’t have a community to celebrate with them, and don’t see the value in celebrating alone in the midst of those clusters of happiness.
So, to you, I say: your college is behind you. When I said “congratulations” to each of you tonight, I meant it. We are so proud of you. We know what it takes to successfully navigate and complete a college degree, and we believe in you. You did this – you can do more. And if you need someone to lean on, reach out to the folks you knew on campus. We remember you. We’re here for you. Once you’ve been ours, you’re always ours.