This past weekend I had the honor of attending two graduations. The first was Trinity’s Commencement and second was for a friend who was receiving his master’s degree. Despite both being university graduations I approached both ceremonies with two very different mind sets.
As a member of the staff of Trinity’s Office of Continuing Education, we don’t have students that graduate. Our department solely consists of students who take a course or two with us for certification and then may or may not come back to us the next time they need to get recertified. I was hardly excited because I couldn’t really put a name to a face any of the students that would receive their diploma that day. Regardless, I was there trying to make the experience a good one for all family and friends of our graduates.
The approadch to my friend’s ceremony was very different for me. I was so proud of what he had accomplished and I knew our friends would scream and cheer the moment his name was called. I got their super early and was prepared to sit through the entire ceremony with my raincoat, boots and umbrella. My friend was finally receiving his master’s degree after 5 years of study while working full time. I had seen the sacrifices he had made and the hard times he had gone through.
But something changed my attitude just before the procession began at Trinity’s commencement. One of the benefits of a small university is that the candidates for each degree are a tight knit group. On commencement day all students get their picture taken with those receiving the same degree as them on the front steps of Main Hall. As pictures were taken, I was asked to locate three students who had received scholarships from the DC College Success Foundation so they too could get a picture together. The DC College Success Foundation aids students from low-income families by providing scholarships but also serve as mentors to help them earn their college degree. These three students in particular had been given a chance to get their degree despite difficult circumstances and had succeeded.
I realized then that even though I didn’t know the personal stories of all the students who would be graduating from Trinity that day I knew they were all like my friend. No one makes it through college without tough times but it’s important to remember that some have it harder than others. They had all made sacrifices to get their degree. They had all struggled through hard times. They had fought through adversity. Many of them had to rely on help from very generous advocates like the DC College Success Foundation. That made me very, very proud.
I can only image that this must be a feeling in the hearts of many area high school teachers. So many have students in their classes who come to school hungry, didn’t get their homework done because they had worked many hours after school to help support their family, or perhaps were distracted by other issues that impact their lives outside the classroom. Teachers, everyday, are patient and do their best to help students get on track to graduate. They help students know success despite adversity. It is a proud moment for teachers when they see a student graduate who many thought would amount to nothing.
Teachers, this year at commencement be proud of what you have done to help that student who struggled and sacrificed to graduate. Encourage them to go forward and use the lessons they have learned to continue to set goals and achieve them. Remind them to be life-long learners just like you are each time you take a professional development course. Ask them to give back and help others who may face the same challenges they have.
But please, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back because next year you may have yet another student that is in the same situation. When the going gets tough, remember how it felt to see your student succeed and use that as motivation to help this student do the same. Thank you for giving your students a future.