For the first time in a decade (as I remember), I won't be attending commencement tomorrow. The arrangements have been changed so that students graduating with honors no longer march separately; instead they will cross the stage according to their colleges. So my services are no longer required to lead them. Although I volunteered to take one stint on the podium, giving my boss a break, but he turned me down.
Maybe that's why, even after a senior banquet of rather epic length, celebrating 86 graduates and launching a fundraising campaign, I stuck around until nearly the last person had left the room. I used to have one last chance to shake every graduate's hand and say a final congratulations. But this year, tonight was that last chance.
With graduating classes this size, there are dozens of students I don't know well, and some I don't know at all. Yet what always touches and humbles me is that it's not just the students I've worked with closely, or even the ones who've taken my classes, who thank me at these events. Somehow they grant me shared credit for what's been good in their experiences, and go out of their way to tell me so.
Just yesterday, a young lady I didn't recognize sat down beside me at the coffee shop where I was working. "You don't remember me," she said, "but I was an Honors College graduate a few years ago." She was right, to my shame -- I didn't know her. She'd never taken one of my classes. I recognized her name when she said it, but not her face. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much the Honors College meant to me," she continued. "It was a great experience. Thank you."
How fortunate am I, to be associated with something that allows me such unearned and reflected gratitude. I benefit from the work of my colleagues. I hope they have the same experiences when one of those students I taught or mentored approaches them.