Earlier this month, I attended my university’s graduation ceremony. Yes, of course, to see the handful of graduating seniors with whom I have connected in my first year. But — I will admit it — also to be a part of the faculty procession. In some ways, this was my graduation — the absolute last one. And, it was the first of many graduations I will attend as a professor, celebrating the next chapter of our students’ lives.
I was one of the eager pre-tenure faculty who actually arrived on time, already dressed in the hot, heavy robe. That meant plenty of time to sit around until the ceremony actually started. (Planning such a huge ceremony is a pain, so I understand asking that everyone comes early.) I chatted with other faculty about how the academic year went, plans for the summer, and department and university politics. I was pleased to see that most faculty were happy to be a part of the day whether finishing one’s first year (like myself) or the 20th.
We received our directions to proceed to the arena floor, splitting into two lines that would fill in the first few rows of the floor seating. And, shortly after, we began the faculty procession. Just as we approached the arena doors, a wave of excitement came over me, as though I was about to walk onto the stage myself. This is it! All of those years of college and graduate school finally paid off. I was now on this side of the ceremony. As we walked into the arena, quietly and slowly, I felt so proud — even a little emotional. I smirked just a little when I saw my face on the huge screens. This is it! We found our seats, where we would be packed in like sardines for almost 3 hours.
Then, the audience began loudly cheering as the graduates began filing in. This was the big event. These were the guests of honor. My feeling of pride subsided as I realized “oh, right, this isn’t about me.” I found myself dwelling on the thought that I am now old news. I had my chance to celebrate my PhD and new job — the time has arrived to celebrate the next generation of college graduates.
I must begin paying it forward, providing support to my students to excel in their careers just as I had been supported in my 24 years of schooling. This was just the first of a few dozen graduations that I will attend, now, as a professor. This is it.