The semester ended officially on Friday. The halls emptied except for a few stragglers here and there and faculty still grading. Every spring, one set of graduates move on. I will miss the students I came to know and whose lives I entwined myself. Like the circle of life, come August it will begin again.
I love the ebb and flow of the semester—even the crazy stress of midterms and final exams. I even enjoy the race to the finish followed by the huge sense of accomplishment and relief that comes with summer break. In the end, I look to the summer exhausted and frustrated by those who gave up. I feel like a beaten piñata, spewing unhealthy emotions and defeat.
Then Graduation comes, and I’m reminded why I neglected the rest of my life for the past nine months…why I put my life on hold every semester.
It is for these students…these students who look toward the future with hope and promise and who strive for a dream. It is for these students who I see during life’s transitions: the beginning of school, figuring out their classes, their dreams, their identities; the middle of their program when they struggle through the difficulties of college and the self-doubt that comes with trying to change. Finally, I am there in the end when they realize their dream with graduation. I get to see the look of accomplishment and pride on their faces as they walk across that stage…this moment that they earned.
This semester, one moment in the ceremony remains with me. The final graduate to walk across the stage earned her master’s degree from the University of Wyoming.* On Saturday, this one girl, the very last person to walk on stage, smiled from ear to ear. Faculty stood and applauded. The rest of the audience joined them. The dean passed the graduate her diploma and directed her to the front of the stage. The graduate looked confused, but she continued smiling. The dean hooded** her as the audience continued to applaud in waves of respect and pride, especially faculty because we remember our own graduation.
I remember my time on stage feeling a sense of wonder and joy. There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it, but I persevered. I met the challenge, and I fought through the tough times.
It began one spring day sitting on the porch in Nebraska with the graduate packet from UW. I read the degree requirements, and I was completely overwhelmed. My step-dad came out and sat next to me. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m reading the requirements for the University of Wyoming English program.”
“Oh, yeah? What are they?” He looked over my shoulder at the packet.
I read to him the list of classes, the number of credits, and the requirements for the master’s thesis. He nodded, “That sounds like a good, rigorous program.”
I looked up at him, “Do you think I can do it?”
He smiled and said, “Yes. You can.”
And I believed him. I took that little pearl of belief with me to the University of Wyoming. I took the first step, then the second, and I accomplished it. I stepped across the stage. I saw my adviser and the entire English faculty there to greet me. They shook my hand, hooded me, and gave me flowers. My family was in the bleachers cheering, and my classmates and friends applauded. I was proud of myself, and I will never forget it.
As that girl stood on the SC stage on Saturday, I bet every faculty member remembered his or her own experience with the same sense of satisfaction. This is why we do what we do…we want everyone to experience that same sense of pride and accomplishment. We want everyone to believe in themselves and succeed.
*Sheridan College allows members of the UW Outreach Program to participate in the graduation ceremonies in Sheridan. This allows graduates to graduate in their community among friends and family rather than traveling 5 or 6 hours just to get lost in a sea of people.