Arizona K12 Center Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke congratulates 2020 graduates and reflects on the role of graduation.May 19, 2020
My niece will graduate this month from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Science in sustainable built environments with an emphasis in communities and planning. She came home to Phoenix for spring break and got caught up in the school closing with all classes moving online. She went back to Tucson to pack up her apartment, but it looks like she is back in Phoenix for good. So, like all students in the last semester of their senior year, she is finishing up final projects and looking for that first job.
Across the United States, there are students just like her graduating and looking for a job during a pandemic. I have no doubt she will be fine as she has a family that loves her and will do anything to make sure she is taken care of. She is incredibly smart, talented, and outgoing. She will land on her feet.
The other day I asked her about missing graduation and she said, “Just give me the paper. I don’t care.” I am not sure that is how she really feels, but I also know that other than high school graduation there is no point of reference for what it means to graduate.
To miss the pomp and circumstance that comes with graduation is a huge loss, because graduations are not just for the person receiving the diploma. They are for parents, grandparents, families, and friends. While there was never a doubt that my niece would graduate from high school and college, that is not the same story for many of our students. So many students overcome unbelievable obstacles, and to miss out on that moment under the lights and wearing the regalia is a huge deal. To be a master’s or doctoral student, someone who has dedicated so much of their life to their studies, it is a big deal. To that first generation graduate, it is a big deal. To that single mom who worked two jobs and went to school at the same time so her children could have it better, it is a big deal. It is so much more than receiving a piece of paper.
I feel for our high school seniors. Not only are they missing out on things like prom, senior ditch day, and yearbook signings, they are missing out on their graduation. They may seem like insignificant moments to many, but they are some of our rites of passage into adulthood. And, while students may be somewhat blasé about the entire experience, I file it all under ‘you only know what you know.’ This is where the adults in the room step up and say, “No, this is not right. We are going to do something.”
Graduations are milestones that serve as markers in a life. They are like birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, first communions, and funerals. They are like that first kiss, a new baby, your first car, or a new job. They are how we mark time. We look at old photographs and reminisce about what has been accomplished.
The complex problems facing us today require a high degree of innovation, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking mixed in with a heavy dose of compassion and humanity. These are the tools in the arsenal of today’s graduates. I can’t wait to see what they do and the goodness they bring to this world. So, to this year’s graduates, please know that your graduation is more than a piece of paper. It is a symbol of what you have accomplished and the promise that lies ahead.