When our son graduated from college, the department of his major hosted a little gathering. We met in the hallway of the department, sat in a conference room, munched on Oreo cookies and drank lemonade out of paper cups. We talked with faculty that had mentored my son and shared stories about him. The memory of their praises of our son are still strong years later, and I saw in some of the faculty the attractions that my son had seen in them. It was a small event but important.
However, commencement ceremonies are large enterprises. Some universities have graduations of the whole, presided over by the president or chancellor. In very large schools, these are now held in stadia or massive outdoor venues, suitable for seating 20-30,000 people. Georgetown, with its school-level ceremonies, has avoided that state, but even then, its ceremonies are major affairs.
Paralleling these large gatherings, however, are smaller affairs, which seem to be proliferating. Some are based on individual curricula pursued by the graduate. A program has a small event, not unlike that of our son’s. This is common among graduate programs, where graduates have shared a large portion of their courses.
The ROTC cadre has a commissioning ceremony, separate from graduation, where awards for academic, physical, and leadership performance are given. Students who share race/ethnicity identities or non-majority cultures gather to celebrate their degree completion, regardless of whether they pursue the same program. LGBTQ and ally graduates gather together to celebrate their time at Georgetown. This year, the Georgetown Cultural Initiative sponsored DISCO Grad (Disability Community Graduation Celebration), in honor of disability pride among graduates of that community. The Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony gathers students with high GPA’s. Athletic teams gather to wish the seniors well in their next stage.
These events have a very different feel than that of the large assemblies of thousands of students and many thousands of families and friends. First, smaller size means that each graduate gets a little more air time. In many of these smaller ceremonies the graduates know each other quite well – and shout-outs are common among friends. Stolls and cords given to the graduates to wear with their graduation gown symbolic seal this membership in the given community.
Second, many of these smaller events tend to have more visible organization by students. Indeed, some are entirely student-run. The absence of ritual that results from this is often more than compensated by the sheer energy of the program. Whoops and hollers seem much more prevalent. Laughter is contagious.
Third, the smaller size also means that families get to meet friends and colleagues of their graduate, before or after the ceremony. They get to see the friends their student has been describing to them during the program. The small size also means that faculty present can interact with families and graduates in a more meaningful way.
These ceremonies seem to be fulfilling a quite different, but wonderful purpose compared to the large graduation events. Social support networks can be recognized as key vehicles to the success of individual graduates; friends networks formed by shared identifies can cement bonds from their shared success; families can learn how their graduate both nurtured others and in turn were nurtured by them. Vivid memories that last a lifetime can be imprinted in these small ceremonies.
Thoughtful, important and well said. In our world the small intimate connections create life long relationships and friends. Georgetown Forever! Congrats to all! Figure out what you’re called to be! And go set the world on fire with your life time Hoya friends. Today is the first day of your Hoya life as an alum . Cherish your relationships . Go u Hoyas!