And suddenly it’s mid-May and we are reaching the end of one of the most amazing academic years of our lifetimes. Throughout my career, I was privileged to attend many of the year-end festivities for student organizations, student staff awards programs, appreciation receptions and other events designed to recognize and celebrate all the great work completed by students. And, of course, there’s the biggest celebration of them all – the Spring Commencement Ceremonies. It’s wonderful to see all the proud, happy, occasionally nervous, smiles of our students as they receive awards, give speeches and cross the stage to be greeted by their Deans and Presidents. Through it all runs the thought that what we do helped, in ways great and small, as each student traveled their own individual road in their own highly personal style.
(On a side note, when seated on stage at commencement, the best show is the smiling faces, but a close second is the variety of foot-ware that passes before you!)
But back to the topic – the year-end celebrations are the most public, but I know many of you receive thank you notes, have students who still e-mail years after graduation, and know students who drop by for one last hug before they leave – and it’s not always the students you expect, is it? Even if you didn’t get tangible thanks, all of us have seen the student who finally gets the system to work because we took the time to explain something, the student worker who passed the test and came by the office to tell you about it or the one who didn’t like the tough counsel you gave but who actually took it to heart – or anyone of a hundred different students we support, challenge, teach, encourage in so many different ways each day, whether we know the final outcome or not.
One of the best parts of working in higher education is that no matter how crazy it gets, how hard the day or how impossibly long the list of things to do, at the core of it all, I hope you remember that what you do is important. Your work can make a difference in individual lives. Your work supports people who want to change their circumstances for the better. Every one of us does important work and at the end of the year we see many reminders of that fact. But during the year if you have trouble remembering, take a moment to remember what it’s really all about. It won’t make the bad or dull or difficult go away, but it sure puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it?
This year more than most, the students who are graduating have persevered through challenges no one was prepared for. And the same is true for each of you. Each of you has faced challenges in your work, compounded by the challenges of working from home. As we work our way through this season of celebrations, I encourage each of you to take a moment to acknowledge, and yes, to celebrate what you have accomplished during this past year and a half. We’re not done yet, which is all the more reason to stop and notice. You’ve done it and I have no doubt you’ve done better than you give yourself credit for.
Congratulations to you and your colleagues on a job well done! Celebrate!