Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Naming Names

I didn’t do the voice.

I thought about it, and it has to be said that it would have been fun if I had, but there are times when that is enough of a justification to do something and there are times when it isn’t, and this was one of those latter times. Some events call for more respect than that, and what can you do but give it?

Last night was the graduation ceremony down at Home Campus. I always like going to those, even if my role is usually just to dress the set. They line the faculty up onstage, and even though I’m mostly an advisor these days I do qualify by virtue of my occasional history class. This year we had enough graduates that we wouldn’t have fit into the theater so we held it in the gym, which I prefer. There’s more room for guests, and the logistics of it are simpler. Also, oddly enough, the lighting is better.

This is always a wonderful event. Those students have worked very hard to get to where they are, often in the face of rather long odds. These are not the sort of students who have it all laid out in front of them with a smooth and uncluttered path to tread. They’re often first-generation college students, with nobody at home who can explain the strange cultural expectations of a university. That’s a lot of what my job is, really. I tell them to think of themselves as anthropologists. It’s not a difficult culture to master, but neither is it intuitive. They almost all work outside the home, and there are only so many hours in a day. Every hour working is an hour not spent studying, after all. Many have families of their own, and the rest are often living with their families. Sometimes both at once. A lot are immigrants or the children of immigrants – the sorts of people this country should be celebrating – and they have other cultures to figure out as well. And here they are. They’ve put in the work, they’ve done what was asked – often quite well – and they’re ready to move on to the next level.

How could you not love such an event?

Plus, we keep it short. Not for Home Campus is the four-hour marathon that you find at other schools! Nope! We understand what people want in these ceremonies. They want to have a bit of ritual. They want to Do The Thing – or if they’re in the audience, to see their child/sibling/friend Do The Thing. And then they want to leave. I love that we understand and honor this.

This year I volunteered to read the names of the graduates as they walked across the stage. We do that. We’re a small campus so you can take the time to let each one be recognized by name, and they’ve earned it. Also, a lot of my advisees were graduating this year and I wanted to do that for them. I spent a fair amount of time before the ceremony walking up to various graduates and saying “Hi! I’m the guy reading your name! How do you say it?” and they’d laugh and tell me.

It occurred to me that doing this in a Pro Wrestling Announcer Voice would be a lot of fun (“And in THIS CORNER! Graduating with a DEGREE in SOCIAL WORK! JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHNNNNNN DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOE!!”). And it would have been. But this was not an event about me and the last thing I should be doing up there was turning it into one. If I did my job right nobody would remember I was there at all. They’d only remember the graduates.

It went well. The speeches were to the point and in the spirit of things. The graduates all walked across the stage and shook hands with our Campus Dean and then with the Chancellor of the Mother Ship Campus. I didn’t mess up any name irretrievably and only two or three in small ways. The students also were allowed to have me thank people – mostly their family and friends, it turned out, and the occasional professor – but a couple of them thanked me and it was kind of strange to go Third Person and read that, but if they’re going to put it in then I figured I should honor that. And then we were all out on the lawn, taking pictures and catching up, perhaps for the last time before they scattered to their next thing.

There is nothing quite like the sheer unadulterated happiness after a graduation, when it finally hits them that they really did do that thing.

I will miss my students. You get to know them pretty well as an advisor – much more so than as a professor, in my experience. They’re good people and I’ve enjoyed talking with them. But it was time for them to move on to new things, and next year there will be new students to get to know.

And if one of them invited me to join them in a celebratory beverage after all was said and done, well, I’m not going to say no.

Some things you celebrate.

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