Commencement season is in full swing—Pomp and Circumstance is on repeat, baked goods with wobbly declarations of congratulations are popping up everywhere, and balloons in school colors are tethered to every available railing. It’s a fun time of year in higher ed, full of excitement, hope, a sense of accomplishment and pride, and yes, a little bit of anxiety. We love hearing a good commencement story (I’m particularly wishing I could be at Cornell University’s ceremony this year for some Joe Biden ice cream), so we thought we’d share some of our favorite commencement memories.
Commencement was my second favorite day of every year when I worked on campus, just behind move-in day for the first years. Both were full of emotion for students, their families and yes, for me. But my favorite part of every commencement day was long before our students lined up, long before the speeches started and the diplomas were handed over. My personal commencement tradition was showing up early in the morning—usually 6:30 or 7 AM—to help the facilities team wipe dew off the thousands of white folding chairs on the back lawn of our administration building. Campus would still be quiet, the sun would just be rising over the forest, and out on the baseball field, our bagpipers would be warming up. It was a really sacred moment for me—an opportunity to reflect on the past year, think about the students who would be leaving us in just a few hours, and look forward to the new year that would commence after a couple months of blessed, relative quiet on campus.
It’s hard to come up with just one commencement memory—not only because I’ve been to so many, but also because, for me, commencement evokes more of a feeling than a specific moment in time. My own ceremony as an undergraduate stands out. To be honest, I don’t remember who the speaker was, but I do remember walking across the stage and never wanting to let go when hugging my housemates farewell. And it was right on the field after the ceremony that day where my dad and I took one of my favorite (and the last before he passed away unexpectedly) pictures of the two of us. It’s been framed in my house ever since. Hearing Tim Russert speak and having him sign a copy of his book for me in the press tent at Holy Cross’s commencement in 2005 was also a highlight. But perhaps what I looked forward to most of all after the craziness of commencement week was access to the donor reception. We like food here at TVP Communications, and that fancy tent did not disappoint.
After working on a college campus for nine years, I’ve grown to love commencement day (especially at Holy Cross, because it is always held on the Friday before Memorial Day, which means all staff would get a long weekend after the festivities). My most memorable commencement speech during my time working at Holy Cross was in 2014, when alumnus Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama, came back after giving his 2003 valedictory speech to give the commencement address. While we know Jon is great at writing speeches, now we know he is even better at giving them. He nailed it! I felt like I was a member of the Holy Cross class of 2014.
For me, even the most fascinating speakers and efficient ceremonies can’t keep commencement from being a little bit too long (and a little too boring). So I’m not one to complain that despite having a big family, I’ve (unintentionally) avoided many graduations. In fact, I somehow managed to attend only my own commencement from Holy Cross, missing my siblings’ graduations from Bucknell, BU, and Syracuse. I was studying abroad in Italy for one, and was teaching in Colorado for the other two and couldn’t make the travel and timing work with my school schedule (or budget). I did make it to all of their graduation parties, though!
I do have some fond commencement memories from those I did attend, and one of my favorites is a little fuzzy—and it’s not because I was out late celebrating. My mom dropped out after her first semester of college, when I came along and she went to work full time to support her growing family. She started taking courses again once my brother and I were in school, and she graduated in 1999—a decade after her original target graduation date. I don’t remember much about the actual ceremony, but I remember I was so proud of my mom. (I still am!)
I was the first female in my family to graduate from college and the first member of my family to earn a master’s degree. I wrote my thesis while on maternity leave after having my daughter, Savannah, and graduated in front of my entire family, including her. The pictures framed in the hallways of our home include me in my gown, Savannah wearing my mortarboard and Kevin, my husband, beaming with pride for the two of us. Not surprisingly, the pictures also captured the tears of joy in my eyes.
Congratulations to all of the 2017 graduates and their families, and good luck with whatever comes next!