With the end of the spring semester, we have three events for our Adult Degree Program students that are wonderful reminders of “why we do what we do” as professional continuing educators. Once again, I’m borrowing from my colleague Roger Whittaker with the phrase he used as president of UPCEA in asking and answering the question “why we do what we do.” I don’t know about the rest of my colleagues, but it is always wonderful to have events that remind me of the significance of our work.
Back to the Triple Crown (or staying with the racing theme, we could call it the trifecta), the three events we have are the Senior Banquet, the Senior Project Forum, and then the big event, Commencement.
Our Senior Banquet is an event where we invite current students, alumni, faculty and others who support our students in the Adult Degree Program. At the banquet we recognize our outstanding students and faculty advisors. One of the students we recognized this year started college at a different institution down a completely different track, graduated and didn’t find her work fulfilling. A few jobs later she found her passion and she was able to use the flexibility of the Adult Degree Program to complete her second degree. Now she is only an internship away from fulfilling her dream. Her story and her passion are my reminder of why we do what we do.
We also recognized this year’s outstanding advisor, as nominated by the students. This year our outstanding advisor was described by his advisee as someone who was always there for her, going the extra mile to provide encouragement and direction. She indicated that without his encouragement she may not have completed her degree. Think about this: the difference between completing a degree and not completing a degree was the willingness of one individual to make a difference. This advisor was the difference between reaching a dream and not finishing the degree. In every interaction we have with our students, we have the opportunity to provide the encouragement needed to make their dream come true. That’s why we do what we do.
The next jewel in our Triple Crown is our Senior Project Forum, where our soon-to-be graduates present their interdisciplinary capstone project, which is directed by a faculty advisor. This is one of my favorite events because I have the opportunity to hear about a large variety of projects, from lessons plans for kindergarten students to exploring how to modify college students’ eating habits. The night is a celebration and recognition of not only the students, but also the fact that it takes a group effort for our students to complete their degree. We have mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, children, friends, and faculty attend this event. And I love to see the pride each has in their student.
Almost to a person, the students are a bit nervous as they begin their presentation but then the passion for their topic begins to come through. It’s wonderful to witness this passion and watch as they just can’t wait to tell you what they’ve learned and how they intend use this in their careers. One of JMU’s points of pride is the access all undergraduates have in doing research with our faculty. With the Senior Project Forum and the collaboration of students with faculty, we add to this point of pride. Listening to our students’ presentations, it does remind me of why we do what we do.
Finally, the last jewel in this Triple Crown is the main event itself, Commencement. I’ve been going to commencements for nearly 30 years, and for most of that time, I’ve watched students receive their handshake and congratulations from the president. Since I came to JMU, where we hold separate graduation ceremonies for each college, I’ve had the pleasure of being the one on the stage giving them their ceremonial degree. And heck I don’t shake hands, I give them a hug for their accomplishment. Some of my colleagues dread commencement, but I love it. It is one of the few places where so many people are so happy and dare I say relieved.
There are two stories I was reminded of while watching our graduates. One of our graduates works for JMU as a police officer, and while he has been to many commencements directing traffic, he reminded me that this is the first one where he wasn’t working and that this time he was getting his degree. Another student told me that his wife graduated from JMU a couple of years ago and she told him that the number one item on his “honey do list” was to finish his degree. He can now take that off the list. (Although I did ask him when he plans to start on his master’s degree.)
At the end of the commencement ceremony, our Adult Degree Program Students turned to the audience and shouted out thanks to their friends and families, and then all of a sudden they shared spontaneous high fives. Yes, that is why we do what we do.
Congratulations and thanks to our 2013 Adult Degree Program graduates.