Monday, May 19, 2008

Now, on to summer!

My daughter has now finished her college education and is in the process of moving back home for an indefinite stay. Because she's an engineer, she had multiple job offers and chose one close to home. Her graduation ceremony offered some interesting contrasts with ceremonies at other institutions, particularly the one where I teach. Here, graduations are mostly dignified ceremonies, with lots of prayers and a sermon. No one would dream of writing anything on his cap, and no one could see it anyway; we don't have to use bleachers to seat the crowd. Graduates sedately process in, receive their diplomas, shake hands, process out, and go eat cake in the cafeteria. (Cafeteria food will, indeed, harm the waistline.)

At the public university my daughter attended, the circus music the wind ensemble played provided our first clue as to what sort of ceremony she would have. The graduates processed in, more or less in orderly fashion, but students in the ROTC programs wore combat helmets instead of mortarboards, and the new mining engineers wore mining headgear. The nuclear engineers had attached yellow paper with the radiation symbol to the tops of their mortarboards, and a few students had creatively embellished the tops of their caps for the pleasure (or mortification) of the viewing audience. The faculty followed the graduates in, but apparently graduation attendance is not mandatory for faculty, since there were only a few faculty members present.

The chancellor spoke the usual greetings with unusual poise, considering the beach balls that were volleyed about by his soon-to-be former students. The balls were quickly followed by a large inflatable sheep baa-ing her way over the heads of the graduates. My dear daughter, who was raised to respect formal occasions, managed to get her hands on the inflatable toys and deflate them. The sheep suffered a laryngectomy before her deflation (and yes, the sheep was female; it had been purchased at a Store of Ill Repute.) Eventually, speakers spoke, graduates were recognized, diploma covers were handed out, pictures were taken, goodbyes were said.

But for both groups of graduates, the hard part awaits. Book learning may be over, but the education is really just beginning. Former scholars will discover that much of what they need to know is not contained in books and must be learned on the job, where bosses will control the next paycheck. New friends will be necessary, for the friends of the last four or five years have scattered. Real life will begin, without the comfort of knowing that unpleasant tasks are only 16 weeks long. Many will find that adulthood is fraught more with responsibilities than pleasures. This last revelation will be a surprise, but not entirely an unpleasant one.

So one more chapter ends, and another can't wait to get started.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The End

The last final has been given, and the papers are almost all graded, except for the obligatory student who "forgot" to bring his final paper to the final (10% late penalty). It's getting quiet around here again, so it's time to reflect on how the year went.
  • Some students don't belong in college, and those were pretty much the ones we had doubts about last August. Note for next year: if the admissions team questions whether or not to admit a student, deny admission. That would have saved us grief and wasted time trying to rescue those who don't yet want to be rescued.
  • Some students will pleasantly surprise you. Kids you thought were unlikeable will turn out to be your favorites. Some kids who initially look unprepared may be the most motivated kids you teach.
  • Cafeteria food will make you fat. Bring your lunch.
  • Choose teaching assistants wisely. They can develop romances with your daughter and hang around long after the year is over (and we're happy about that!)
  • Listen to advice. That means advices from colleagues, superiors, and your students. Even poor students may have valuable insights on what would motivate them and what might make you a better teacher.
  • Buy plenty of tea. Nothing is as good for a kid whose girlfriend has just ditched him as a cup of tea and a listening ear.
  • Thank the Lord for small victories, because they will add up to big ones.

I will miss graduation this year because my own daughter is graduating from college. The first night class I had here will get their associate's degrees. I am proud of them, because they had been denied admission until I could teach remedial classes for them. Most of them have remained, and they've done well.

So here's to next week full of meetings and then a summer of quiet with time for reading and writing. Y'all keep safe, and we'll be ready for August!