Finals week on a college campus is a mixed bag of strange experiences. A sample from today: a discussion with a senior about Octavio Paz, Mexican women’s sexuality and her experience of dual cultures; a European student trying to bum a ride to O’Hare to catch his flight home; a giant student-constructed slip-n- slide; a visit from a parent moving her third Mount Mercy student home for the summer.
In my department, finals week is a time of furious activity. Always more to do than hours in a day. However, this week (of the whole year) it is most difficult to buckle down and get stuff done. Instead, I find myself taking every opportunity for deep discussions or silly celebrations — both of which abound. It is as if students finally realize that they are surrounded by people who care about them and relax their guard enough to genuinely connect.
This year, finals week is bookended by emotionally charged events. Last Saturday, I attended the end of year banquet for one of our sport teams, and the coming weekend holds commencement activities.
At Saturday’s banquet, the coach, well-respected by his peers and genuinely caring toward his athletes, said a few words about each student. When he got to the seniors, he became so choked up he could barely proceed. This is an annual event, mind you — both the banquet and the tears. Despite the good-natured teasing from athletes and their families, no one really wishes for a year when he can maintain his composure. That would mean a year in which he had lost his love for coaching, a year in which (regardless of accolades) the team had been unsuccessful.
In a few days, at commencement, I will watch hundreds of students cross the stage to be handed their diplomas. Many, I will not know. A few, I will honestly be happy to see moving on. But there will also be those seniors whose lives I have been privileged to be part of for the past two or four years. Many scenes will cross my mind, some funny, others tragic. As they shake hands with the president and leave the stage, each one of those students is moving forward into a life that holds unexpected events, people, treasures, setbacks.
Hence the name, “commencement”. The forward movement is the important piece – not the leaving behind, not the memories, not the looking back nostalgically. My hope is that each one of us, whether celebrating a particular commencement or not, may pause for just a moment this week, take a deep breath…then step forward.