On June 11, I had the honor and privilege of attending the graduation of my first-born daughter Shanti from Carleton College. I ordinarily do not try to post family events on this site, but the phenomenon of attending a graduation as a parent – instead of as a professor – was an amazing event. It provided a lot of insights worth noting and remembering. At Pomona College, I have attended about 19 graduation ceremonies as a professor in Physics and Astronomy. The experience was one we professors looked forward to – with the usual dread about sitting on stage in a hot medieval costume while 400 names were read, and listening to the long and sometimes rambling speeches by students and faculty. The joy of the students, the hope of the parents, and the celebration of our collective future is uplifting, even after 19 ceremonies.
The professors also get to meet the parents. This is a fun part – and our department would set up the appetizers, and wait for the arrival of parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and even a few random alumni who would drop by. It was always fun to try to match parents to students even before introductions were made and when students were somewhere else. Both personality and appearances gave them away. The interactions between the generations and siblings were really interesting to observe, and often revealed a lot about the family dynamics which were consistent with the social habits of our students. We professors are naturally proud of our students, and we gladly tell glowing stories to the relatives about how insightful, hard-working and fun their kids were to teach. We recognized on an intellectual level that they were proud and we shared their pride – but I realize now that I was completely unaware of the intensity of the emotions of graduation day.
What is different about attending as a parent is that it is your child that is graduating. Putting aside the $250,000 that some of us have paid for a college education, it is the labor of love that went into raising that child that comes to mind for a parent. On graduation day, all the events of that child’s life flash before your eyes. You remember them as pre-schoolers (even with a pre-school graduation ceremony!), you remember them at AYSO soccer, at 5th grade astronomy camp, as marching band members, water polo players, and growing high school kids. You see their whole life flash before your eyes, and there right in front of you is a graduate – an adult – who has learned to think for herself, to explore the world with new intellectual powers, and to be a fully realized person. The pride, the emotions, the sense of your own inevitable march toward grandparent status all are overwhelming. Parents, as much as their children, are graduating. They are graduating from their roles as parents, and becoming something else. It is an emotion-laden time – for us it was as laden with emotion as the Minnesota sky trying to deliver its afternoon thunderstorm!
A note is also worth taking about Carleton College. Despite the enormous costs, we feel fully satisfied that Carleton delivered value for our money. I told the Carleton President, Steve Poskanzer, that I admired Carleton’s integrity and quality. They know how to educate their students with difficult standards, and less grade inflation than most places. They have formed a strong sense of identity as an institution and provide a warm and friendly intellectual community for the students. Our daughter Shanti has thrived there, and there can be no better testament to an institution’s quality than parents who feel proud and grateful for the education, and a child who is equipped with new intellectual passions, intercultural awareness, and a strong sense of their identity. It is tangible to us that Shanti has grown – and we are proud to see her emerge from graduation, as a realized person!