Okay, I’m a sloppy sentimentalist: I love commencements. In my twenty-five years at the college, I think I’ve only missed two: one for my stepson’s graduation in another state and one for his wedding. I love seeing the people who started out as clueless first-semester students reaching at least one of the goals they set for themselves, sometimes after a LOT of detours.
This evening’s commencement ceremony brought more national media attention than our little-known college generally receives. Jessica Lynch, etched into the national memory when she was carried out of an Iraqi hospital in April 2003, finally got the teaching degree that was her dream before she joined the military. While she was never my student, I have been continually impressed with this young woman’s integrity, her refusal to allow a false narrative of her capture to continue, her continual giving back to the community. But her story, while probably more dramatic than most, was not the only story of achievement found in that multi-purpose room tonight.
A mother-daughter pair from a rural county graduated magna cum laude. Two former students, a couple with an adorable toddler, graduated after a semester that found them dealing with problem landlords, moving, and the usual stress of a final semester in college. A young father who enrolled in an upper-level English course, even though it had nothing to do with his major and was filled with English types, finished the course successfully. At least one graduate was older than I am, so there has to be a story there. A student from a long-ago English 101 course, now on her own with two children, received her nursing degree and hopes someday to work in Hospice. Another wonderful woman, the mother of a special-needs student who is now in college, graduated with honors and is about to become a teacher herself. The endlessly helpful student volunteer from my former office may in a few weeks be teaching in Panama. More than three hundred people, all with stories, graduated tonight.
I hope the lives they are commencing prove kind to them.