Denisa and I had the chance to go to graduation again yesterday. Not for us, mind you. Our graduation days are almost definitely behind us at this point. Last year we went to graduation, but we didn’t march in the procession. The offer was on the table for us to do it, though, and this time we decided to give it a shot.
We enjoyed our time at the ceremony last year, but it was even better being so intrinsically involved in the festivities this time around. For one thing, it was the first time Denisa was able to earn the hood she earned for her Masters in Teaching English in a Second Language. (We were already in Maine when her graduation ceremony was happening.) So in some ways I think it felt for her like a much delayed celebration.
I remember when I was graduating with my Masters in Library Science, I didn’t care to attend the ceremony at all. I was done with graduations, literally and figuratively. (And why would I fly to Tallahassee just to graduate?) But now that I’m a bit longer in years, my thoughts are changing about things like graduation ceremonies. I think it’s increasingly important to celebrate accomplishments. To take some time and recognize you achieved something that involved a lot of hard work and effort. Sure, the reading of names can be long, and some of the speeches might be boring (not on Saturday, though!), but if you’re not celebrating something as momentous as a graduation, what are you celebrating?
And being able to watch it all from the ranks of the faculty was that much sweeter, though there I need to digress for a moment. I am not a faculty member. In the University of Maine system, librarians are staff, despite the fact that in many other systems, they’re considered part of the faculty. But I had asked the provost last year if I could march with the rest of the faculty, in my graduation robes. (An MLS is considered a terminal degree, after all, but I’m not going to go into the weeds too much.) So I was hooded and robed on Saturday, as was Denisa. And all was proceeding swimmingly. I am friends with many faculty members, and I felt very much part of the group. But then all the faculty were asked to rise and be recognized. They took up the front two rows of the seats, and all of the people in those rows stood.
Except for me.
Because while I might not have felt out of place at all, I also know I am not a faculty member, and I did not want to stand up to receive recognition for something I had not earned. Which is fine. You don’t stick out that much when you’re sitting among a group when everyone else is standing. But then I faced a new dilemma.
The faculty sat down, and the staff were asked to rise. And there I was, sitting in middle of the faculty section, robed and hooded, and wouldn’t it just be easier to stay sitting down and not make an idiot of myself?
I stood up. Second row. The only person (that I could see) in the faculty section to be standing. I’m told there were other staff members peppered around the audience standing, but there hasn’t traditionally been a “staff section” at graduation, so it wasn’t like many people were near me. I felt no sense of solidarity, and I felt very much different.
I’m not bringing this up to make a stink about things. (Although as I write it out, I realize that’s sort of what’s happening.) I’m bringing it up to explain why I stood. I was President of the Staff Senate last year. I know very well how staff can feel at UMF. There are times that it feels like Faculty vs. Staff, something which is almost inevitable, I think, when budgets are on the line, and staff are one union and faculty are another.
Last year when we went to graduation, it was the first time I’d gone in the 10+ years I’d been working there. I remember looking around when the staff were asked to stand, and being surprised at how relatively few of us seemed to be there. But why should I have been surprised? I’d never gone before. It had never felt like something I really needed to do. But when I was there, it had such an impact on me that I wanted to do it every year.
I stood up on Saturday not because I like being singled out. (Anyone who really knows me knows how far from reality that is.) Rather, I stood up because I want staff to be recognized. In my ideal world, there would be a staff section at graduation (and I spoke to some about this after the ceremony, and maybe there’s a chance that will come to fruition). I stood up because staff are a huge part of a student’s college experience, and we often get (or at least feel) overlooked. An asterisk compared to the learning that goes on in the classroom.
Again, I don’t mean this as a slight to any faculty or administration. I think some of this has been done the way it’s been done because that’s how it’s always been done. But without someone standing up and speaking out, how it’s been done is how it always will be done. (Also, please note that I’m sure I wasn’t the only staff person to stand up. There were a slew of staff people there, many of them already standing, because they were the ones keeping that ceremony rolling. Huge props to facilities and IT. It’s a ton of work, and if it all goes off right, no one notices it at all.)
Perhaps if staff were invited and encouraged to come, with a section in the audience just for them, more might come. (They’re invited to a breakfast beforehand. Some did come to that, but many more faculty.) Maybe if more staff were there at such a great celebratory opportunity, it would be a chance for some of those us vs. them walls to come down a bit more. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into things.
Any which way, it was a great ceremony, and I’m glad I could go. Always wonderful to see all these students who worked so hard over the years, finally achieving their goal. At BYU, faculty and staff didn’t really feel like part of my life, with one or two significant exceptions. At UMF, the relation is much closer, and I love that. Faculty here all take very immediate roles in their students’ lives. Staff do too. So graduation becomes a very immediate sort of affair.
Anyway. There are my thoughts for the day. Go Beavers!
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