June’s a hot month for ceremonies—weddings and graduations all over the place.
I’m not so big on ceremonies.
When I got married, I eloped. I did attend my high school graduation and baccalaureate programs (skipping would never have occurred to me at the time), but I was thrilled to miss my own Bachelor’s Degree commencement at Southern Illinois University. My Mom was graduating the same day, and it would have taken major logistics to get to both ceremonies, so I said, “Let’s just all go to Mom’s!” We took a picture of me in her mortarboard. Then for my M.A., and M.F.A., I just didn’t go.
But I tend to enjoy graduation at UW-Richland.
First, I like looking at the UW-Richland faculty and staff on graduation night, in all our robes and signifiers. “We clean up good,” as my Uncle Earle would have said. Also, we look just the tiniest bit like Hogwarts teachers on that night. (I call dibs on McGonagall.)
And then there is always at least one student who crosses the stage that makes the whole ceremony worthwhile.
After the 2012 ceremony, I asked one of our first-year students, Darryl, to do a pinky-swear with me that he’d be crossing the stage in 2013.
I learned about pinky-swears from my son. They seem to be a mix of “let’s shake on it” and “cross my heart and hope to die.” You hook pinky fingers and promise, and for my son, it’s nearly sacred. If he does one, I know he’s serious. This Bible verse comes to mind (from my favorite book of the Bible): Ecclesiastes 5:5 “It is better not to make a vow, than to make one and not fulfill it.”
Darryl seemed to have the same attitude. He wouldn’t do a pinky swear with me last year.
But he did cross the stage this spring. You’d have noticed him if you’d been there (or if you stumbled across the video on cable access television). He’s hard to miss—tall, long dreadlocks, LARGE personality. I was so happy for him, personally, but even happier for other students following him. He is a leader, and more students will follow him, students who might not follow anyone else.
In last month’s “Pedagogy Stew,” I talked about how important it is for students to be able to tell their own stories to themselves. If they feel in control of their own narrative, they are more likely to tell stories about overcoming obstacles, rather than giving in.
There’s so much we don’t know when we look at a student. We don’t know where they are in their narrative arc. We don’t know what story they’re telling to themselves about the present moment, and whether “graduation” or “grade in this class” or “using spell check” shows up in the story at all.
I hope “education” is part of how their stories end happily. Or how their stories begin well. I promise I’ll keep working to make that happen. Pinky-swear.
(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)