May 17, 2016
Reflections on spring 2016 commencement
Another Commencement week is over and I am left with so many images in my mind. Every student who crosses that stage has a different story that has brought him or her to that point. Each has a support group and has overcome adversity. Now that I have just about gotten Pomp and Circumstance music out of my head, I can reflect on the many experiences I had celebrating commencement with our graduating students, their families, and our faculty and staff.
I got to put a K-State doctoral hood on Guy Palmer, a biology graduate from K-State, now a National Academy member doing research in eastern Africa to fight food insecurity. A Veterinary Medicine graduate received her hood from her grandfather, father, mother and uncle, all with their Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. Two women went across the stage in the College of Arts & Sciences ceremony with infants in their arms wearing their own cap and gowns. I had no idea they made caps and gowns in infant sizes. I congratulated them both — mother and child. Both babies smiled; they must have liked my silly hat!
An Education graduate timed his ACL surgery for after student teaching and before commencement. He went across the stage on crutches and got that diploma, but dad greeted him on the far side and a wheel chair ride ensued. A mother and father accepted their son’s posthumous diploma at the Agriculture commencement. I hugged both and felt the choking sobs of the mother. Tears were in my eyes and most all others’ eyes.
Throughout the day, I heard cheers, cowbells and the occasional air horn (who makes those?). One family all wore the same K-State purple T-shirt, another family had beautiful multicolored African shirts. I feel like I saw more decorated mortarboards this year and sashes and cords definitely were up. I know the School of Leadership Studies pins, but there was a new pin and ribbon for the Snyder Legacy scholars. I saw the Kaufmann Scholars sashes for the first time.
I got to hug Darrington Clark from Theater and Kurt Lockwood, Garrett Kays and Joe Tinker from the Student Government Association. I got one last hug from Emily Zwonitzer, graduate in Social Work and Provost's Office work-study for the last four years. Congratulations to all. Justice Davis did the College of Business Administration student charge with a poem that touched all with its beauty and poignant references. Parents and grandparents were able to give diplomas to their offspring and the audience always responded with spontaneous applause.
Commencement speeches were given by Wayne Goins with a beautiful introductory video, Bill Snyder discussing turnarounds and persistence (he has some experience), and Dan Yunk, after years of experience in secondary education, gave counsel to graduating teachers. Audrey Mross extolled the benefits of networking, Bob Broeckelman told agriculture graduates about being one of 12 children and coming to college, and Andrea Albright told about taking what seems like big steps out of our comfort zones to new exciting opportunities.
Every college’s graduates swayed to the alma mater at the conclusion of the commencement and K-State alum Terry Ferguson played his bagpipes at each ceremony. I missed my colleague in crime and attended the ceremonies without President Schulz. I shook every hand and wished each graduate congratulations. Well, almost. I need to be truthful here; I am mortal, no matter how many times I tell myself I am not. By 6:20 p.m. Saturday, I was hitting the commencement wall. My back hurt, my feet were tired and I was nearly done in. I came off the stage of the College of Human Ecology’s commencement and saw Darren Dawson readying for the last ceremony of the day, Engineering. I told him I needed to rest before the next ceremony. A few minutes later, Bette Grauer came back to our locker room commencement den and told me Dean Dawson suggested I go home. Go home? Before the brass quartet, before the Engineering oath, miss the College of Engineering completely, not Tweet something about the last commencement of the day? I debated for at least a second and then packed up and went to my car. I was thinking of you Engineering students, staff and faculty. I congratulate you all, even if I did not shake each of your hands. I went home and put my feet up after taking three Advil.
I smiled. I was tired, but happy. Kansas State University just gained new alumni. The Alumni Association welcomed them and each got their Alumni business card holder. Our faculty had hugged, congratulated and cried with many, many graduates; our staff had rounded up unruly platform parties and gotten them out the door in the appropriate order. Special shout out to Michelle Langvardt who makes it all go well, her cohort in crime, Kelly Moon, and all the Bramlage and Athletics staff who worked really hard to set up time after time. Thanks to Carol Shanklin, who attended the College of Architecture Planning & Design while I was in Bramlage, and the Polytechnic campus, who went it alone as both Kirk and I had other commitments.
I cannot end my letter without one fashion statement. Graduating guys: coming across the stage in shorts, athletic shoes and no socks is not a good look. With that gown and your hairy legs — it is just not right. Just sayin’.
Until December’s commencement comes along, I hang my regalia in their bag. I think again about the memories made during spring 2016 commencement and how fortunate we are to work in higher education with wonderful students.
Thanks for all you do!