It is that time again... students are leaving after completing their degrees. I have had three graduation events this weekend, and I am both inspired and pretty tired! I am always touched by the ceremonies where we get a better and deeper sense of who our students are and what makes them tick by seeking them with their families and friends.
Students speakers are instructive, as well. We usually hear confirmation of our suspicions about hastily written papers, excessive partying, anxiety about the future, etc., but we also learn about their hopes and dreams in a new way.
When I spend time before and after these graduation events greeting the students and their families and friends, I am struck by how different the students are from one another. Academically, however, they tend to fall into groups for me: the plodders, the stars, the lucky, and the surprises.
Most students are plodders. I don't mean this naming in a negative way. These students make their way through the program in a fairly straightforward manner: going to classes, turning in assignments done fairly well and on time, and negotiating the pressures of partying and personal issues to get through with their heads above water. Some have to work a little harder than others to get by, but they are solid A/B students.
There are a few stars that clearly excel--turning in work that is incredible, seeking out opportunities to gain extra experience in research or workplace settings, doing copious amounts of volunteer work, etc. Straight A students, they are the ones who receive awards, scholarships, and kudos in every arena.
Then there are those lucky few every year who I am surprised to see on the graduation stage, as we recognize that they managed to finish the program. Just a little more industrious than their brothers and sisters who have failed, they get by with C's and D's on the weakest effort and/or battling the fiercest demons. Sometimes I am proud of them, especially if they overcame very difficult circumstances, but most often I am reminded how low the bar can be pushed.
I spent most of my high school and college years as a plodder, though I would also say that I was occasionally one of the lucky ones who made it by the skin of my teeth. It was not until my doctoral program that I began to stand out (and feel smart and capable) in any way. I would never claim to be a star, but I do think that I am at my best--in terms of scholarship, administration, and leadership in the field--in the last 5 years.
I am perhaps my own best example of the fourth type of student: the surprise. That student changes over the course of their time in the program, often from one of the lucky, to a plodder, and perhaps, to a star. What is best about surprises is that they remind me that no one is stuck (or safe) in the category they may embody at graduation. Stars can sometimes fall, and the lucky student who barely got through may find a job in which they become a star. College was just one phase of these students' lives; there will be so many more.
I wish all the best of luck to all of our graduates. Whoever you are, this is an achievement.