This is Graduation week at the University of Richmond where my bean is the Online Writing Lab (OWL) Coordinator (& tutor) as well as a Writing Consultant assigned to specific courses. Faculty are required to attend graduation ceremonies and other events related to graduation, so these are typically annual rituals.
Wednesday night was what they call School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) Night. This is the event where those receiving bachelor, graduate, and some specialized degrees are honored for their achievements. And afterwards, they feed people some pretty nice foods and drinks. However, before entering the auditorium, one must don protective hand gear in order to avoid hand injuries from all the applause they will do for the honorees. One lucky faculty member will also be honored with a University Chair (a real chair with a seal on the front and a plaque on the back) and the title of Itzkowitz Family Distinguished Adjunct Faculty. Bean was once a contender, but since she is no longer teaching directly (other than when she is in a classroom consulting), she has fewer associations among students who would nominate her. Eligible faculty is nominated and voted on by the student body, and the winner is always a well-kept secret until that night. It’s exciting to see who receives the honor of “the chair” … and the opportunity to speak at the graduation ceremony.
Several years back, like most universities, the SPCS division of the University of Richmond as well as the Arts & Science School where Bean once taught, all shifted their focus from true writing instruction to a more critical thinking posture. In Bean’s humble opinion, this was a fine idea but one that seemed to come at the expense of fostering and furthering the students’ writing skills throughout the rest of their studies and, of course, post graduation. Most universities and colleges believed that students were being taught writing at the high school level. Bean disagreed, not because the students could not write but because there are nuances to writing throughout the disciplines and their various assignments that these students are not prepared to understand and carry out. However, Bean works as a writing consultant in the courses that replaced the writing instruction, and she continues to assist and instruct students who may still require such encouragement, and she also urges the better writers to aspire to an even higher level. Most of them manage, but sadly not all can even be coached through. Good writing remains a skill some are incapable of achieving over the course of a single semester. Time is not on their side.
The graduation itself is a black-tie, dress-up time for everyone involved. Bean got her Master’s of English Literature through the School of Arts and Sciences at UR in this very same venue, so it has a certain nostalgia for her. The cap, gown, and hood that Bean wore at her own ceremony there hangs in the front closet, willing to go, but not without Bean wearing it.
Usually, she would be in the second row of the faculty section, directly behind the dignitaries, such as public servants from fire and police, listening to the speakers and watching the be-gowned and anxious walk the stage to receive their diplomas from the President and Dean, some with dignity, some with nervousness, some with gratitude for the opportunity to become educated, and some with humor (via signs on their robe backs or atop their mortar boards, a bit of comic relief). Some have a huge fan base in the audience which erupts at the mention of the student’s name. Shouts, cheers, air horns, and laughter punctuate this semi-solemn event, reminding us that these are humans and life is to be lived.
This year, Bean claps from home, not able to hike across the vast parking lot, walk through the Robins Center to the other end of the building to check herself in and then back to the lobby to stand for over a half hour in her assigned position for the eventual processional of faculty. But she tells the dollies here all about how special graduation days were for her own ceremonies, and how a good education empowers people to achieve more than they might without a degree, their ticket to their dreamed-of success, and reminds them to keep reaching beyond what they believe they can do and be.
Are these students now prepared to enter the real world and assume their places in society? We hope so: our dreams and wishes for the future rest on their shoulders.