By Thursday evening finals will be over. Whether graduating students actually finished a couple of months ago or have a class that lasts a couple of weeks further into May, all will have a chance to celebrate at commencement on Friday evening at Selland Arena in downtown Fresno. If it seems that commencement ceremonies come in quick succession (remember December?) with more than 1,000 graduates this year they have to.
Commencement, however, is only the big event. When the 8,000 or 9,000 of us join together, when the procession of professors and students march in to the arena with colorful robes and hoods, when the stage is full and the music stops, we become one community that recognizes the accomplishments of students and the professors, families, friends, staff and many others who have taken a part in their sometimes long educational journeys. The high ceremony is appropriate—the right words are said, solemn gestures are made—all will remember those moments (if not what the speaker says).
Prior to commencement are a number of other celebrations, some of which start today, in fact. I have them all on my calendar. Today is the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary’s scholarship awards ceremony, followed Thursday by the Seminary Spring Gala, which includes the hooding ceremony for seminary grads, as well as humorous and touching stories of their work in the church and other settings of service.
Also tomorrow is the ceremony for the traditional undergraduate liberal studies program. Most of these grads will go on to be teachers. Students enjoy a short talk by a recent alum, and receive apple-shaped boxes filled with symbolic items—a rubber band to remind them to be flexible, a Band-Aid (not sure if it is for them or for their students) and a crayon for creativity, among many others. At about the same time is the social work reception, which includes not only parents and family members but those professionals who have supervised students in the many hours of internships that are the culmination of the program.
There are several occasions on Friday before the big event, as well. At noon is the Cultural Celebration. Students from around the world, and those from populations who have traditionally not had easy or open access to higher education, receive the ethnic sashes they wear at commencement. There is always music—Latin American, African, Asian—and a brief speech recognizing the accomplishment of these students and families, and offering encouragement for the future. Later in the day comes the pinning ceremony for nurses in the RN to BSN program. This traditional ceremony, going back to Florence Nightingale, also has speakers, focusing on the call to serve, to heal, to bind up the wounded.
We aren’t done yet. There is a reception for our “Golden Grads,” those who graduated 50 years ago and who are back to join us. They will march in with the grads in the evening and be recognized again after all of these years. We are reminded of the tradition of which we are a part, of those who have gone before and those who will come after. And right before commencement will be several hooding ceremonies for master’s graduates. The School of Education will hood 50 teachers and administrators, while the School of Business hoods leadership and MBA graduates, the School of Natural Sciences hoods kinesiology and nursing grads and the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences hoods grads of the conflict and peacemaking and the individualized master’s program.
Now the main event. We have outgrown the campus, even for multiple commencement ceremonies. Who knows where we will go from here, how we will develop the celebratory events that honor the significance of student accomplishment, and the importance of education for our communities, our churches and families. Education is one of the primary paths to economic stability, to service and to understanding the work we do in Fresno, Bakersfield, California, North America and the world. Wherever they go, our grads take the unique, special and health-bringing influence of FPU, which has prepared them to understand their professions, offered them a deep appreciation for God, Scripture, humanity and creation and shaped them for justice and peacemaking.
And, I almost forgot, next week there will be a ceremony celebrating those who have completed credential programs in elementary, secondary and special education. This year more than 1,000 will gather at the Special Events Center for this commencement-like event to honor candidates who will follow the teacher education program’s mission of “teaching as a calling to redemptive service.”
We have much to recognize, be thankful for, celebrate and honor, and many groups have formed unique bonds and a deep common understanding of their gifts and their callings in God’s ever-present kingdom. The days we now enter remind us that FPU is a community of communities with a common mission and purpose.