Each year as I arrive on campus for commencement I feel a sense of excitement. This year I was especially eager, as the graduate commencement speaker was our very own Deborah Richardson, a alumna from the MA in Leadership program!
Arriving at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, I joined the long line of cars turning into campus at 8:00 am. Even at this early hour parking was challenging. After stopping by my office to don my regalia and greet other faculty members, I walked across campus to the stadium. It was lovely to see students in their caps and gowns sharing this experience with their families and friends. Arriving at the athletic field where we, students and faculty, were lining up, I looked for the MA in Leadership learners interspersed with other MA students. These moments before processing into the stadium are precious–lots of hugs, big smiles, and time to check out the creatively decorated caps. The joy among our learners was palpable! With warmth in my heart, I hugged each one and congratulated her or him on this great achievement.
The term “commencement” refers to the ceremony where degrees are conferred on students completing a course of study. It also means a beginning or a start of something new. It has been my great honor to walk alongside these graduates, who represent the best talent and diversity for our leadership future. I had a front row seat to their struggles and joys, their expanding capacity to engage multiple perspectives, their excitement at learning new theories and concepts, and the many life changes that occur over the course of 23 months.
At the start of the MA in Leadership program learners read Bill Bridges’ (2004) book Transitions. Bridges writes, “every transition is an ending that prepares the ground for new growth and new activities” (p. 45). We revisit the book again in the last course as learners are completing the program. The ground has been tilled and seeds have been planted. As our 2017 graduates move forward with their lives after graduate school, they are ready for new beginnings – for our graduates the new beginnings are often about seeing a new reality through an expanded worldview.
Deborah’s powerful commencement address reflects the expanded worldview of our graduates as they finish our program. She offered a compelling statement: “What we believe is what we know, without realizing that what we know is not always what is to be believed.” The call to question beliefs, to engage in critical thinking, and to seek new ways to address long-standing issues is critical at this time. Deborah encouraged all present to be “Upstanders,” people “who believe that the goodness in each of us propels us to do something, to say something” about the injustices in our world. It will take all of us together to foster justice, equality and civility to our fellow human beings. She invoked us to be angry at what is, to resolve to say something and to draw on our courage to do something. And, she pointed out, “liking something on Facebook does not create sustainable social movement.”
Following the ceremony, we gathered by the statue of Saint John Baptist de la Salle for more hugs, pictures, and to meet the families and loved ones of our graduates. My sense of excitement has only grown stronger as I think about what our graduates will bring to the world as Upstanders!
Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: Da Capo Press.