Pomp and what is the circumstance?

Tis the season of graduation…caps, tassels, gowns, speeches-all in full effect. Working in higher education, I always find myself at an emotional crossroads this time of year.  I am elated for those that have accomplished their goals. I am excited for what the next step has in store for each of them. Yet, I am saddened for those that did not make it to the point of graduating.

High School Graduation 1996. That’s me on the right. My dreams for the future were as big as my hair! The caution cone in the picture is a bit symbolic don’t ya think?

This month I have attended three graduations…two ceremonies for my cousins’ graduating from high school; plus, I attended the graduation of the institution where I work. There is nothing I love more than seeing everyone dressed in their regalia and students’ faces beaming with a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Hopes, dreams, and excitement fill the air. I get a kick out of the bedazzled mortar boards that say “class of 2012” or “hi mom.”  I get chills each semester when I hear the thunderous applause and the shouts from the audience from proud parents, grandparents, and friends. At my institution’s graduation, the thing I love most is hearing a tiny voice interrupt the graduation service saying “that’s my mommy” or “yeahhh daddy” as their parent walks across the stage to get their diploma.  What a lesson that parent has taught their child!

No matter if it is a high school or college graduation, each individual has persevered, beat the odds, and overcome barriers to get to that point. Some had more to overcome than others, but when the tassel is turned, the honor is the same.

To avoid a statistical war, my next few points will be estimates based on a variety of data sources and experience. About 75% of students who start high school in Kentucky finish. Sounds good at first, right? Well, what about the other 25%?  The figure for students in college who persist and graduate on time is grimmer. My point is not to debate about what statistic is correct. My point is to say….when I hear the pomp and circumstance played at graduation, I think about what was the circumstance that prevented the ones who were suppose to be there-from being there.

Where was the dream diverted, lost, or postponed?  How and why did they make it to a certain point, but didn’t make it through? What could have been done differently? Was there a point in the pipeline where they were misunderstand, misdirected, overlooked, or under challenged? Was the pipeline the problem-too constricting, not the right flow, rusty pipes, etc?

For those that didn’t make it to their graduation I can’t help but wonder how much more difficult life might be because they didn’t receive the empowerment that education provides. I know folks who make an honest living and are terrific providers for their family who do not have a high school diploma and I know folks that have a high school diploma, but not a college degree who are helping make the world go round. So this blog is not to say that a diploma/degree ensures happiness, wealth, or an easy road. But the reality is more and more jobs are requiring more and more skills that require furthering one’s training and education. Therefore, my mind goes to how could the education systems have helped more students through?

Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating graduation. But the real reason I get up and come to work every day is for that percentage that didn’t make it to the ceremony. Whether it be sharing a smile, offering advice, connecting a student to a resource, helping the insurmountable seem mountable, explaining the education bureaucracy, etc. my work focuses on getting students to the special milestone of graduation.  My business is increasing the number that I see walk across that stage to accept their credential.

Today my spoon is full of hope and perseverance for those that just might not yet see it in themselves. As well as, a spoonful of thankfulness for folks who have mentored and encouraged me while helping me find my way through the education systems.

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