I recall writing this post about the Graduate College ceremonies two years ago. This Friday, I’ll get to walk through the same ceremony as a doctoral candidate…to celebrate completing the last of my educational requirements. I’m still working on my dissertation, but am preparing to defend and complete that process no later than mid-July of this summer.
I was thinking about this post because it’s interesting to change perspectives – being a graduate, being faculty, then being a graduate again. I’m looking forward to Friday…to sitting with my doctoral advisor, to smiling as I get hooded, and to being with my family. I’m a sucker for academic regalia, so am exited to have three velvet stripes on the sleeves of my robe this time, and a velvet tam on my head. But mostly, I’m looking forward to being finished: with enrolling, with paying tuition (about 35K and counting…), and with having more hoops through which to jump. I’ll be glad the hoop jumping is complete.
I know there will always be hoops in life – job hoops, tax hoops, qualifying hoops of one sort or another. But, to know the educational hoops are about the end is, to me, one of the most exhilarating feelings I’ve ever experienced. To me, that’s what Friday will mean. ~ Peace, RDK
Last night I reported to Gallagher Iba Arena just before 6:00 p.m. My assignment? To assist master’s candidates with their academic regalia. I had my instructions: Medallions first, cords second, hoods, then caps. Also, tassels on the LEFT.
In December of 2001 I was being assisted with this process, rather than being the one who assists. My perspective was so different this time. As I jockeyed with those guarding the door who wanted to see my credentials, asked where I was to report and then finally seemed to be convinced I had a reason to be there I began wondering if I would be of any use to the students. After all, they were getting their Master’s Degrees, right?
That question was put quickly to bed once I had walked down the hallway and into one of the practice gyms. All around the room students were jostling with their regalia. “What do I do with this little loopy-thingy?” “Is this on right?” “Can you help me with the zipper on my gown? It’s stuck.” “Do you have any bobby pins?” “Hey, someone brought safety pins, cool!” The comments circled around the room and repeated themselves over and over as the room filled almost to capacity. Where were all these Master’s candidates coming from? Did we have three, four or even six times this many on our campus? I was genuinely surprised at the numbers. I would guess there were at least 400 or more milling around in their friendship groups. I noticed between eight and ten older, “returning” students (read: those my age or older…some with a full head of gray hair) standing alone. The eight or ten appeared, by and large, peaceful and happy. I think they were just standing in the midst of the hubbub taking in all they could.
The “traditional” students (read: those between 24 and 28 years old) were standing around in groups of two, three, eight or even more. They were rapidly speaking to each other and helping one another with their hair, regalia, holding phones, taking photos, etc. One group of tall young men in the corner broke out in the “Oh-lay-oh-lay-oh-lay-oh-LAAAYYY (Ole, Ole…)” song. They were jumping up and down to the beat of the song, and sang it three or four times through.
The international students were a different story. Most were quite reserved and waited patiently while I assisted one after another with their hood. For some reason I got a huge lump in my throat that would not go away, and tears began to sting at the corner of my eyes. I was looking directly into the face of a student who was accomplishing a life goal, and who wanted to look their best. I was fixing their ties, holding up their hair so they could get their medallions on, or looking for extra safety pins for those who didn’t wear button-down shirts and were worried about their hoods shifting. I felt pressure to work more quickly so I started doing the “train the trainer” method. I would work on one person per group of five or six, talk out loud about the steps on how to prepare their regalia, show them how to pull out their hoods evenly then fold them over, then ask, “Okay, got it?” Heads would nod and they began helping each other quickly.
As I completed one “tutorial” I turned around to find a male student of Arabic descent standing in front of me. His black turban easily made my reach 6’6″ or higher. I quickly told him, “I’m sorry, but I may need you to bend down a bit in order for me to reach over you.” My cultural misgivings about asking a man of the Muslim faith to “bow down” to a woman were immediately allied. He made eye contact with me, smiled and said, “Thanks so much for helping me.” I mulled over that little moment for a long time on the way home.
Time was running out and the students were being asked to line up around their respective College signs. I saw a few undergraduate students I had mentored who were now getting their degrees and lavished on the hugs. I saw a colleague who was in my own graduate program with a big smile on her face. I hugged her too. While I was standing on tip-toe (she was really tall in her high heels!) I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a student holding a plastic bag out in front of him. “I need help,” he asked with an Indian accent flair to his speech. “Okay,” I replied. “Let’s hurry.”
We moved quickly to an open area, tore open the packages in his bag and began to get him ready. Another student came in, running, holding a similar bag. They glanced around the room. They saw the “outlier” (Read: Us. The student and I wrestling with getting him dressed at the last minute) and must have thought, “Hey – someone like me!” They approached us and said, “Can you please help me too?” Their voice blurred with the announcer stating that it was time to begin The Walk. The student I was helping began to help the other unpack, we quickly got them both dressed and the worried expressions on their faces began to fade. I glanced at both of their faces, relaxed and said, “You look great. Really. Congratulations for all your hard work!” They thanked me and joined the ranks, leaving me standing there in the middle of a pile of regalia wrappings and bags.
As I stooped down to pick up the litter the tears I had been holding back let go. There was so much joy in the room. So much hope, so much excitement, so much humility.
I think I want the same job again next year.