Getting The Sheepskin

Today we witnessed the Vassar Commencement.  This year is Vassar’s sesquicentennial (i.e., its 150th birthday) and it was a special day for everyone who attended.

At Vassar, the commencements are held outdoors in a beautiful setting.  The stage is set up in a natural amphitheater with the Vassar lake in the background and tall pines framing the stage, and the chairs for the graduates and guests are set up on a gently sloping hillside.  As a result, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house — unless you get stuck behind one of those annoying parents who won’t sit down.

The skies were threatening but the rain, thankfully, held off.  We got to see many Vassar traditions, such as the “Daisy Chain” carried in by Vassar undergrads in white dresses, which has been a commencement staple for decades, and we learned about a number of other traditions in a speech given by Vassar’s president.

In fact, all of the speakers at the commencement did a good job.  There wasn’t a real clinker in the bunch, which means that the Vassar commencement is different from every other commencement I can remember.  The main speaker — Chip Reid of CBS news, himself a Vassar grad and the first male alum to be a commencement speaker — was especially good, and struck exactly the right note with a speech that was encouraging, funny, interesting, and not overlong.  (Great job, Chip!)  And, of course, we got to see Russell cross the stage and get his diploma.

The new graduate and his proud Mom

Commencements are, of course, memorable for the graduates and their parents.  As a parent, I feel great pride and satisfaction about Russell’s accomplishment, and it was a real pleasure to meet his professors and fellow students.  But the emotions felt by parents, I think, pale in comparison to the confusing mix of emotions felt by the graduates.  There is relief at having stayed the course and happiness about your achievement, but also a certain wistfulness at realizing that your friends of the last four years will never again be so close and so close by — and, likely, trepidation about what will happen next.

Because commencements are so charged with emotion, I think the appreciation of the accomplishment may be get lost somewhat, only to be found in coming days when things have settled down.  That’s a good thing, in a way, because graduating from a fine school like Vassar College is an accomplishment to be savored.  Congratulations, Russell!

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Vassar Reflections

On Sunday, Russell will receive his diploma from Vassar College.  I’m sure every parent of a graduating college student says this — but it is hard to believe that it has been four years since we first drove to the Vassar campus and, on an excruciatingly hot day, moved Russell and all of his stuff into a cramped room on one of the upper floors of Main, the oldest building on campus.

Whenever a child picks a college and then starts school, the parent holds his breath.  Will it be what he expected?  Will he make friends?  Will he get a good education?  Most importantly, will he be happy?  Or, will you get the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call from the weeping child who says they hate the school and just want to come home?

By all of these standards, I think Vassar has been a good choice for our son.  Russell has been happy there.  He seems to have received a solid liberal arts education that has challenged him intellectually.  He has enjoyed the arts curriculum at Vassar.  His range and, I think, his confidence as an artist has grown.  He has made many good friends who hail from every corner of the country.  He learned how to play rugby and traveled with the team to Ireland.  He received an award that allowed him to spend a memorable, sweaty summer traveling throughout Vietnam and creating art in the midst of the Vietnamese people.  He participated in a number of art shows and got to organize the Vassar contribution to the Masters on Main Street exhibit.

And, when he receives his sheepskin on Sunday, he will have completed his schooling in four years and be ready to move out into the world.  It is hard to believe that that day has come so soon — but it will be an occasion worth celebrating.

Writing The Last College Tuition Check

Earlier this month Kish and I wrote our last college tuition check.  It is one of those milestones that you don’t fully appreciate until you have reached it — and then you realize that it means a lot, and in unexpected ways.

Of course, college graduation is an achievement for the student, the culmination of four years of classes, tests, labs, papers, deciding on majors, and thinking about what you want to do with your life (among other college-related activities).  It also is an achievement for those parents who have footed some or all of the bill for the education the graduate has received.  For those parents, the sense of accomplishment probably is similar to the feeling people used to have when they made their final house payment and had a party in which the couple lit aflame the mortgage papers.  As proud as Kish and I have been of Richard and Russell and their fine college careers, we also should be proud of ourselves.

Yet, for all of the positive feelings that come with signing that last tuition check, there is an even stronger feeling of wistfulness and — to be perfectly blunt — advancing age.  When your kids have graduated from college you can’t really consider them to be kids any more.  They will always be your children, but now they are adults.  You will never watch them play a Little League game again, or help them with their homework, or take them to the 8th grade dance class.  They will move on with their lives, and you will be more of a spectator than a participant — like the initial guest on the old Tonight Show who began in the seat next to Johnny Carson and ends the show four guests away at the end of the couch, next to Ed McMahon.

As much as I have looked forward to being done with college payments, I now find myself wishing that the day hadn’t come quite so quickly.