Yes the title is in the plural—celebrations. This week and next we will celebrate a number of times. On Friday commencement will celebrate a new class of alumni and the completion of the graduate and traditional undergraduate academic year. Degree completion students and faculty study and teach year round, and a new graduate semester starts next week, but we all feel the ending of the cycle.
It is appropriate that we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. Many will be the first in their families, and one of the few if not the first in their communities, to earn a college degree. This is something to celebrate, not only because of what it means for the graduates—the accomplishment of a large effort and perhaps entrance into the professional world—but because of what it means to those around them.
A college degree has become more and more the ticket to financial and other kinds of well-being in our society. The results are readily available—more than 10 times the lifetime earnings of those without degrees, lower unemployment and benefits such as retirement and health care all accrue to the individual and overflow into the community. This broader community—neighborhood, church, school, workplace—in many spoken and unspoken ways has supported its members, and they will celebrate a communal success. The graduate will also return with new abilities, discipline and, we hope, deeper insight and wisdom. The intangibles of education are as important as the training, perhaps more so. All will have reason to celebrate!
As we send graduates to begin a new season of life and service, we will honor distinguished individuals with honor cords, Alpha Chi stoles and special awards. We will also celebrate a faculty member with the NETA (Nickel Excellence in Teaching Award). A plaque honoring recipients for their influence on students hangs in McDonald Hall.
A variety of achievements
A number of smaller celebrations will also mark this, one of the most delightful weeks at the university. There will be ceremonies for our first Master of Science in Nursing graduates, liberal studies majors, ethnic and cultural communities and the seminary “Gala” dinner.
The School of Education will host a research symposium and next week a celebration recognizing newly credentialed teachers. The undergraduate research event was a couple of weeks ago, as were events inducting new members into academic honor societies, and an undergraduate honors dinner that included our scholar-athletes. At the same time Student Life hosted the Student Leadership awards dessert. The concerts last week by all performing ensembles were of professional quality and deeply moving, mirroring publicly the quality of what our students accomplish.
Unique celebrations of group accomplishments are found in degree completion and master’s level cohorts. These students form “learning communities” where members encourage, support and in some measure teach each other over an extended period. Students in online programs often form the same tightly knit communities of support and learning as well. Cohort students frequently line up together at commencement and applaud one another as their names are called and they march across the stage. Their professors and advisors, part of those learning communities, celebrate with them as they walk by.
Honoring university life
The life of a university is more than one week—complex, sustained effort is required just to keep us all going in the same direction. All professors, staff members and administrators contribute specialized knowledge, creativity, good will, care for each other, effort and amazing work ethic. Next week our annual Faculty-Staff Appreciation Luncheon will celebrate those who have been with the university for milestone periods of time—5, 10…25 years—those who will retire and the recipients of the President’s Distinguished Service award. And so that we do not forget the more mundane but difficult challenges of this year in particular, we will celebrate finishing the year in the black—a positive year financially, requiring the effort of all. At the June board meeting we will announce faculty merit awards for teaching, scholarship and/or service, as well as promotions in rank and the awarding of “continuing status” (our quasi-tenure).
Through it all we will remember those who have supported FPU by giving, praying, sending students and taking time for leadership, encouragement and simple participation. (A few weeks ago we celebrated our President’s Circle donors, but this only reaches one part of those whose gifts we celebrate as we close the year.)
What has all of this to do with leadership and the university? Who and what we honor symbolizes our values, our purpose, our mission and the efforts of this highly intensive work we call education—one of the most important and meaningful things we do in this life. Embedded in all we do is the commitment to serve Christ and his kingdom. Many of the events I have mentioned will have a worshipful feel: prayers, invocations, hymns, readings of Scripture, reminders of the claim of Christ on our lives and the high calling we have. If, as we sometimes say, “all truth is God’s truth,” the work we do is indeed something to celebrate.