It happens every year, that symbolic ritual that seems to define academia: commencement. It’s that bittersweet time when we all dress up in medieval robes, endure long speeches and even longer degree-awarding ceremonies, and reflect on Big Things.
Every year is different. Variables like the weather and the quality of the speeches create indelible memories, but for me, it’s the graduates themselves who are the most memorable. One of my favorite things about teaching at a small liberal arts college is that you really get to know a large percentage of the student population, especially when you teach large introductory classes and conduct school ensembles. And then there are your major advisees and private students with whom you have close relationships. Seeing them all come and go over the years never fails to inspire a wide range of emotions including pride, surprise, relief, and in a few special cases, a parental sense of loss.
I have a unique perspective on the whole graduation thing. Before I became a college professor I regularly played the trumpet and sometimes directed music for commencements at other colleges and universities. Now I am one of the faculty marshals for our ceremonies at Goucher and it’s quite interesting being on the other side.
My particular job is that of a “hooding marshal” which means that I am one of two faculty members who bestow the white sashes (symbolizing the liberal arts) with the Goucher school colors (blue and gold) on the back that we drape around the neck of each graduate. We also direct faculty traffic for the recessional and get some of the best seats in the house: front row, left center. My favorite part of the job is that we get to see all of the students right before they receive their degrees when we put on their hoods
at the foot of the stage just before their names are called. It’s always interesting to witness the different reactions students have to receiving their degrees. Some are serious, determined, emotional; others are triumphant, cocky, bored, or distracted. You see everything. It’s all so wonderfully human.