Graduation is a special day, a time to celebrate achievement, but also a time to pause for a few minutes before embarking on the next chapter of one’s life. Even though I graduated many years ago, I still love attending graduation ceremonies because they are such joyful occasions. Next to weddings, they are one of my favorite gatherings.
Last Friday morning found me in the Indiana University Auditorium listening to a pipe organ originally built in 1889. The powerful sound of 4,543 pipes playing “Pomp and Circumstance” sent shivers up and down my spine as more than two hundred MBA graduates processed to their seats. And then the speeches began.
Graduation is a time for inspiration, and this ceremony was no exception. Speakers laced their addresses with one motivational quotation after another. More jaded people may find such sentiments rather sappy, but they almost never fail to touch me: “We all own a stake in each other’s future,” or “If you give me a chance, I’ll never let your down,” or “Judge each day by the seeds that you grow.” I want to believe that other people feel this way about themselves, each other, and the world in which they live. I’m sure I heard similar statements many years ago, but like these graduates I was probably sitting in the audience thinking about getting a job or worrying about paying off a student loan. I wish schools and universities gave graduates sound tracks of graduation speeches to be played a few years later after the excitement and optimism has dulled due to the reality of daily life. We all could use a dose of hope, joy, recognition, and promise.
Graduation is often a time shared with families and loved ones, and my graduation from Bluffton College back in the 1970s was no exception. The first person in my family to attend college, I was blessed with a mother who taught me (by example) to be curious and to love reading, and with a father who understood that a college degree makes it possible to spend your life doing something you love. When they took me to campus as a freshman, I felt as though someone had given me the keys to the kingdom. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge (probably to the detriment of my social life), and when graduation day arrived I felt energetic and full of possibility. I knew it was a special day because my Dad, who spent most of his days on a tractor seat or in the barn, put on his dress suit (acquired before World War II) and joined my mother for both baccalaureate and commencement ceremonies. I don’t come from a hugging family, and my father couldn’t express his feelings as freely as the man pictured here, but I did receive a pat on the back. Dad was happy for me, but he didn’t want the achievement to go to my head. My mother ordered a bakery cake with a mortarboard on top!
Since that day I’ve taken part in a number of graduation ceremonies. My one regret is that I didn’t encourage my family to attend graduation the day I received my Ph.D. By then, it seemed extravagant to ask them to make a five-hour drive each way just to sit in Memorial Stadium and watch thousands of students they didn’t know earn degrees. The loneliness didn’t hit me during the ceremony as I sat there with my doctoral adviser, but afterward I realized my mistake. Graduation, no matter what level of education it represents, is a huge accomplishment and deserves to be celebrated with those you love.
Congratulations to all of the graduates of 2015!