Graduation season is upon us once again. I still have a hard time getting into “graduation” ceremonies for preschools and elementary school, but completing one’s high school, college, or graduate school studies really does call for celebration.
And, as we know, different schools have their own traditions surrounding graduation. We wear funny clothes, for example — ridiculous robes with non-functional hoods that mimic the way professors used to dress for class long ago. At Campbell University Divinity School, where I teach, we do a couple of things that are designed to make the event more memorable.
As each graduate’s name is called, for example, he or she is met by a loved one — a spouse, parent, sibling, or other supporter — who brings forward the hood the marks the graduate degree. Often, tears ensue — and not just from the pair up front.
A second thing is that, when members of the faculty call the students’ names, we offer an affirmation that recalls our past experience or future hopes for them. Sometimes the affirmation may recall a loveable personality quirk, or a shared memory of sacrifice.
“We will remember your enthusiasm for study and for service,” we might say, or “We’ve been blessed by your generous heart and your love for those overlooked by others.
Nouns like “faithfulness,” “commitment,” and “perseverance” are common in these affirmations, as are adjectives like “cheerful,” “colorful,” and “fun-loving.” We remember how students’ lives have witnessed to us of their compassion, authenticity, and willingness to learn.
I sometimes wonder, when it’s my turn to call the names, how many of those affirming words would apply to me. Does my life demonstrate the humility, generosity, or dedication we often see in our students?