At first blush, commencement seems an odd term for the ceremony where diplomas are handed out to graduates of universities and colleges. It signifies the close of four or five years in study and work in higher education to obtain the needed skills for a career in a chosen field. But given a closer look, commencement means an end and a new beginning for graduates, a means of saying congratulations on achieving their goals, and then preparing to enter the world and make the most of what they’ve learned.
Granted this sounds like the core message of every college and high school graduation address you’ve ever heard, but it is a common theme as the season for commencement gets under way. It’s a thought to be considered once the exhiliration of completing school and celebrating that fact have their day, and the reality sinks in of venturing forth into the everyday routine of making a living along with all of its attendant responsibilities. Some graduates may be lucky enough to have jobs to go to the Monday after commencement, while others may be searching and continue to do so for awhile, supporting themselves through temporary employment until something opens up in their field of expertise.
I am certainly in no position to offer advice, but wiser souls than I have rightly maintained that no experience, no matter how tedious it was, is wasted. Even the last detested summer job I had back home in New York State between my first and second years at Ohio University taught me something about the restaurant business, interacting with my fellow workers and gaining an appreciation (along with some practical skills) for food preparation as the high-volume eatery that employed me braced for another day of trying to satisfy its customers. Some things you don’t always learn in the classroom, so be willing now and in the future to benefit from whatever practical experience comes your way. “Now your real education begins,” as I was warned by one of the first editors I worked under in Logan, Ohio, at the time of my graduation. Can’t say you were wrong, Jim Myers.
But when it comes to instruction within the halls of academia, don’t reject out of hand what didn’t seem to work for you. In the brief period when I taught remedial courses in writing and reading comprehension, I sensed a lot of impatience on the part of students who balked at these and other seemingly unrelated requirements for their major or what they wanted to accomplish in life. I imagine some of those folks clung to that belief all the way through school, just as I continue to believe in what used to be called a liberal arts education. I took mandated courses as part of my major that tried both my intellect (or what passed for same) and patience, caused some sleepless nights and left me in near-panic as finals approached, but I still took something away from them that later aided me in my career. So no education, like experience, goes for naught. Although that conclusion still wouldn’t have helped as I struggled through Logic, one of the required electives yours truly, like a dope, put off until the end of his student days.
Outside of academics, one of the things you take away from college are friendships, memories of good times at school events, talking nonsense well past midnight or the occasional road trip just to see another part of the world, even if it was in a White Castle on High Street in Columbus, Ohio, around a rainy 2 a.m. during finals week, to speak from my personal recollection. Those good times, along with the not-so-great and downright awful things that happen to you as a college student, will stay with you forever. But life after higher ed offers its own opportunities for fulfillment, so be sure to take advantage of them.
And how soon commencement arrives! I’m still amazed that OU’s was April 29, followed by the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College, Marshall University and other institutions on Saturday of this weekend. But I came from that happy period where semesters had been replaced by three 10-week quarters, which for OU students meant spring instruction didn’t end until early June, not to mention that marvelously lengthy break between fall and winter classes, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. The return of 15-week semesters in most institutions wins points for practicality, but lacks the frequency of change and adherence to the traditional school year afforded by the quarter system.
So yes, graduates, you will be waving goodbye to what was a big part of your life, but through a rite of passage called commencement into an entirely new phase of existence. And that should be a pretty exciting experience. Good luck to all of you.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.
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