A professor’s graduation day void

I didn’t think missing graduation this year would feel so weird – and so bad.

As a long-time Castleton University faculty member, I have been on that stage for 15 graduations.

So, you might think I’d be OK with missing number 16. But I’m not.

Obviously, any stinging I feel pales in comparison to seniors missing this amazing day, at least temporarily.

I feel terrible they not only lost arguably the most memorable weeks of their college experience, but also the act of walking across that stage, getting that diploma, shaking the president’s hand and having the obligatory snapshot on the other side before returning to their seats and exhaling.

That’s on hold until next year for some, but others will miss it entirely, because of jobs and life obstacles.

And that’s sad.

But for me, with 15 graduations comes 15 speakers, hundreds of names, cold windy days and hot humid days.

Some of the speeches were amazing, like former business professor Paul Albro’s short, witty and poignant message that left us laughing and thinking.

Others, however, were less inspiring and stiff.

For professors, graduation is part obligation, part inspiration. It signals summer break, but it’s also a chance to make and savor that brief eye contact on stage with students who inspired you – and who you hope to have done the same for.

For me, however, graduation day is more about the Media and Communication Department reception with students and their families before they get to the stage. It’s there that we get to tell these parents how much these kids mean to us. We get to gush about their accomplishments, joke about mishaps and tell them how proud we are of them and how great it was to work with them.

To me, this is the personal part of graduation.

No pomp and circumstance, just visiting over donuts and coffee about academics, family, life and the future. It’s bittersweet too, because you are essentially saying goodbye to some of your kids, kids you tried to nurture both with books and with your life.

I feel that way.

When I say I miss graduation, that’s what I’m missing. Zoom is a great platform and allowed us to continue teaching. It also allowed us to hold a virtual reception for department graduates on Saturday, with some parents tuning in too.

But it’s not the same as a firm handshake or a mom’s hug or the smile of a proud grandparent. The family members got to hear us speak about their kids, but we didn’t get to chat with them. That left a void.

So, yes, I’m missing this graduation perhaps more than I thought I would.

And I plan to savor it a little bit more next year. When things are “normal” again.


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