Saturday I was honored to sit as faculty at the commencement ceremony for the 2013 graduating class of Laurel University. This is not the first commencement I have attended as faculty, but Saturday was special in its own right. Saturday, a student graduated who started her journey at Laurel University almost 4 years ago, the exact same time I started. She was one of my first students that August evening. I have to tell you how ridiculous I felt teaching that class. I had just left my 4-month old for the first time. I was leaving him for 5 hours and he would be getting rice cereal for the first time. I made my husband video tape it. I had been at home with my kids for three years at that time, and in some ways had grown much wiser, mostly because I had grown to realize how much I still have to learn. I have found that the greatest thing about being a teacher is understanding that I am ever the student. To think that I had anything to offer as a professor….
A professor? What did I have to profess? I did not feel like a professor. Professors look like Dr. Selleck who walks easily down the halls with a single slim briefcase, not needing to carry anything because it is all wrapped up in his brilliant mind. Professors look like Dr. Lindsey who can recall Biblical passages in the original languages at whim. Professors did not look like me, carrying through the halls at least 3 bags full of equipment, including a projector, texts, visual aids, and extra resources (and of course a thermos of coffee). You get the idea. I look every bit of the mess I feel. Every time I teach, my shoulders hurt the next day. So does my brain. It’s a job I take very seriously, and with great great humility. Sometimes, I wish I could slide in under the floor of those halls. I feel so unworthy…
For the most part, even after 9 semesters of teaching, I struggle with confidence on that drive to the college. Michael and my best friend often say (in a very 1 Timothy 4:11-16 pep-talky kind of way), “You know more than you give yourself credit for.” I don’t know if that is true or not, but there have been a few moments when a student remarks,
“Wow….I never thought of it that way before…”
That is a high I will chase for the rest of my life. To me, the college experience is embodied in the opportunity to challenge predefined constructs of thinking. It means reexamining ideologies and allowing oneself to view a situation in a new light, from a different perspective. If that is accomplished, in any way, in a class where I am the instructor, then I have done my job.
On graduation day this year, I put on my robe and hood and
ugly hat mortar board. I first put on that robe when Nolan was 3 months old. I was too exhausted to really take in everything that robe represented. But this past Saturday, and in graduations past, when I robe, I feel such a deep appreciation for the opportunity to do so. And looking at those students faces on Saturday, I sense they did too.
There was a great deal of pomp on Saturday. There were grown men in gowns, modest women in large ugly hats, and words like ‘heretofore’ and ‘thereby’ spoken freely. There were cheers from family members beaming with pride as their loved ones walked across that stage. There were fist pumps, ‘woohoos!’, and there were tears.
And rightfully so. Some of our students have overcome such incredible adversity to achieve the accomplishment of turning their tassels from one side of their mortar board to the other. Some have fought cancer, buried a loved one, or become a spouse during their time at Laurel University. They have sacrificed financially, relationally, emotionally, spiritually and stretched themselves in ways they would not have been able to perceive just four years ago.
I watched the graduates receive their diplomas and step down from that stage. I felt a lump form in my own throat as I watched my first student walk back to her seat. I watched her wipe a single tear from her eye. I watched her eyes. I watched as she fully submerged herself in the moment, and allowed herself to be swept away, if only briefly, in the pomp and circumstance.
I watched, too, in the hustle of congratulatory hugs and handshakes as she picked up her small granddaughter with a hug that seemed to say, ‘now you can do it one day too.’
I bet she does.
I bet she may even remember the day her grandmother walked across that stage. I bet she remembers the pomp and splendor and the look in her grandma’s eyes. It is a look I will cherish and tuck into my memory. I will carry those looks of pride and serenity from Saturday with me as I step back into the classroom this August. There will undoubtedly be a student who is stepping across the threshold of the university for the first time. As long as the Lord allows, we will journey together. And in so doing, I pray we will live out the mission to which God has called Laurel University: to Learn and Grow and Impact the world for Him.