There’s been a real buzz in the air at UOW-Shoalhaven, because today is Graduation Day. I love graduating so much I’ve done it several times now (Four, I believe. I did deliberately miss one when it was mid-Summer and I was significantly pregnant with Child the Younger).
These days, I’m not walking across the stage, so much as sitting on it and cheering for those who do. It’s pretty sweet from this side, but there’s a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. Our campus manager and Admin staff all have critical roles to play to make sure that everyone is where they need to be, wearing what they need to wear, and receiving an appropriate amount of pomp and ceremony.
Our groundskeeper, maintenance go-to and all round good guy, Troy, always used to say Graduation was like Christmas, because all those jobs you could kind of live with, suddenly become urgent and have a deadline. Now, Troy’s one of those people who just keeps going until the job’s done, so in the good old days when Graduation was on campus, he would be out here weekdays, evenings, and weekends, trying to get everything looking its absolute best.
Today, Troy had a slightly different role. He’s still been running around doing stuff, sure. He spent time cutting a whole bunch of gum tips and taking them over to the Entertainment Centre, where we have held our ceremonies since 2010. But today his daughter walked across the stage. She is a first-in-family graduate and one of our great success stories. She’s a favourite of all us here at UOW-Shoalhaven, of course, because we’ve been hearing of her adventures, and those of her brother and sister, for many years. But long before I was hearing those stories, she was a senior high school student coming to English tutoring after school. And I was her tutor. It was an absolute delight to catch up with her today. Another of my former students was there today; she threw me a special wave as she passed by, and I clapped extra hard. We caught up afterwards for a photo. The thing about we teachers is, when we talk about “our kids,” we don’t just mean the biological ones. I was bursting with pride to see two of “mine” walk the stage.
Now, as a kid I moved—a lot. Homes, schools, states—my Dad was an engineer who routinely moved to a new company and a new mineral. The great and unexpected delight I have found from living in the same regional area for more than two decades is that I get to really know people, and they resurface in your life unexpectedly. Simone in the photo up there? She and I had kids on the same soccer team. Scott in the photo above became my son’s baseball coach. Troy and I were on the Relay for Life committee together. Last year, I saw the last of the student cohorts I had taught at UOW graduate, and I was sad, because it felt like the end of an era. But when you live in a community like this, there are always connections with the graduates, so it is always special and you always have “kids” who are “yours,” even though they are now graduated, employed, bill-paying adults.
Today was also nostalgic for another reason. One of my fellow graduates from the 1995 Graduate Diploma of Education cohort, the Honourable Mr Jihad Dib, Member for Lakemba and NSW Shadow Minister for Education, was our guest speaker. I’m in the process of sharing with him a series of photos from our Dip Ed year wherein we look somewhat more casual than we do below.
He and I were sitting close to the centre of the stage, and we could hear snippets of the graduates’ conversations with the Deputy Chancellor. The vast majority are already employed, are in caring professions, and are happy with how their work life is developing, which is just amazing. Jihad then addressed the graduates, speaking passionately and from the heart. He spoke about the importance of working to help others, and never losing sight of that. He also talked about seeing the positive, and remembering that sometimes, we can be the one person in someone’s day who reacts with compassion.
I think his speech resonated with many today, and it certainly resonated with me. I’m pretty sure than on our own Graduation Day, neither of us thought we’d be in the positions we are now. But we both wanted to work with learners, and in our own ways, we both still get to do that. And while neither of us can remember the Occasional Address from our own graduation, I suspect that some of yesterday’s graduates might remember his. Thank you, Jihad.
Can you recall the speeches from your own Graduation? What advice would you give to young graduates? What advice would you give your younger self?
Sound off in the comments below.