It’s that time of year. We are all getting ready for commencement and we are all trying to do whatever tweaking will make the commencement more of a special moment for our students/graduates. A few years ago, we moved all our May commencements indoors for the first time in my memory. Of course, also part of my memories are the outdoor commencements where it rained or, even worse, there was thunder and lightning, and the outdoor commencements where winter made a reprise in May, or August arrived early instead. Even though moving indoors required one more ceremony to comfortably seat our graduates and their families and friends, it was well worth it.
Last year, we added large video monitors so that the special moment where every graduate receives a handshake from our president was much more visible for the family and friends of the graduate being recognized. Many years earlier, we began the tradition of announcing the name of every graduate as he or she crosses the stage to receive the handshake. The large monitors were well received and made it easier for everyone present to be part of that special moment.
This year we have added a student speaker to our honors convocation. Every graduating student had the opportunity to apply to give the speech and a student, faculty, administration committee reviewed all the applicants and selected the speaker. All the applicants without any prompting focused on how positive their experiences were. For me it is both the pleasure of having a student speaker as well as the pleasure of reading all the student proposals that warms the heart of a 200+ commencement ceremonies veteran.
I was also particularly pleased that a graduate student who will be graduating next December came forward last month with a comprehensive report that she had prepared identifying what more could be done for the graduates and for their families. The emphasis was on social events for the graduates and greater accommodation for families, especially the families of international students. We are in the process of reviewing the report and considering additional changes beginning with that commencement.
For what is an important culminating experience, I am pleased that we are continuously looking at what we can do better. The ceremony, steeped in tradition, lends itself to autopilot and to maintaining status quo conditions. But there is no question that improvement and enhancement is always possible and worthwhile. While colleges and universities often share information on commencement speakers, there is limited communication regarding the ceremony itself. And while alliances, conferences, and associations focus on many aspects of academia, commencements aren’t often one of them. Going forward, I’ll try and do my part to see that there is more discussion and more sharing.