Old Convocations and New Traditions



 

The band played. An awkward silence followed the first two selections. Things were about to start, and anticipation pushed the audience from the campus’ lawn to the plastic folding chairs under the outdoor tent.


In Converse and Gucci, graduates walked down the aisles in comfortable and stylish shoes suitable for the occasion. The robes covered their graduation outfits. Most waved at the Livestream camera and loved ones in attendance.


From our virtual seats in Antigua, we screamed, "There she is!"

For 95 years, these annual ceremonies acknowledged students’ achievements. When the President took his turn at the podium, we learned about the significance of the school’s almost centennial tradition. Then, he expanded on the importance of graduation ceremonies and the contributions of faculty members in attendance before introducing the keynote speaker.


After an inspirational speech and the surprise announcement of an award recipient, it was time to recognize the individual graduates.


I waited.


My kids and wife waited.


We waited and waited.


Most students listened for their names, walked across the stage, shook hands with an administrator, took the empty degree holder, and smiled for the picture. The repetition of behaviors triggered ideas about the US education system.


Too many of us graduate from school, get a job, find a partner, buy a home, start a family, pay the bills, allow our bodies to deteriorate, and then die. Without using our unique talents, skills, and gifts, we follow the lesson plans of our teachers and the rules of our parents to dictate our life choices.

We do not pursue the career or entrepreneurial goals that possess the capacity to disrupt the status quo. There's too much uncertainty in unfamiliar endeavors. We would rather stay comfortable and avoid the discomfort necessary to realize our human potential.


I get it. Suffering is not enjoyable. But, listen, there is a need for courageous college graduates.


In schools, we need teachers and administrators committed to disrupting the default mental settings of self-hate and negativity. The suspected mass shooter in Buffalo is an example of a high school graduate intoxicated with the ideology of white supremacy.


We can also see similar disturbing patterns in the individuals suspected of murders at a Dallas hair salon, a Taiwanese church in Laguna, and two graduations in Tennessee.


Schools can influence violence prevention movements. Students with guns are almost as synonymous with American culture as baseball and apple pie. We need to create schools that emphasize love, learning, and longing to influence social inequalities before and after graduation.


This post highlights education, but a coalition of individuals and institutions is required to sustain movements.

My sister was the graduate we waited to see cross the stage last Saturday. We yelled her name at the tv screen when they announced, “Dr. Melanie Lindsay, PhD in Cultural Studies.” Unlike other graduates, she did not simply shake hands, smile, and take her seat when the administrator called her name.


She put her right fist in the air. The fist served as a symbolic salute to Black history, the social inequalities that persist, and her commitment to justice. After talking to the latest doctor in the family, I learned her fist was also a nod to my 2013 graduation.


When I graduated, I held my right fist in the air as my advisor put the doctoral hood over my head.


I am ecstatic about my sister's huge accomplishment. She persevered through many personal sacrifices to earn a doctorate. Without a doubt, I know that she will make valuable contributions to matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Think about your education. What has it prepared you to do? It doesn’t matter if you earned an 8th- grade diploma or a PhD. Yes, some opportunities come with more education, but think about how you can use what you have to break traditions and mold the lives of individuals, families, and communities.


 

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