Finally! Reflecting on Graduation and its Significance

What an amazing weekend. Thank you to everyone who encouraged me along the way. When I enrolled at Brandman, I experienced what a lot of my students go through: doubt. I wasn’t sure I could earn a bachelor’s degree.

It took a lot of work, and an even-greater amount of discipline.

Thank you to my family and friends who were there at commencement, including my sister who flew in and surprised me. Thank you to those who posted congratulations and added likes on Facebook. And, of course, thank you to the wonderful faculty and staff at Brandman University.

Greg Schulz, president at Fullerton College, asked me if I had reflected upon what this achievement might represent to my children. Almost immediately after commencement, youngest son began asking to wear my grad cap. I believe this photo answers Dr. Schulz’s question better than words. For the past 18 months or so, the boys have respected my need to complete assignments — and their sacrifice was most notable during the summer, when I studied instead of joining them in the pool.

I was honored and humbled to be nominated by one of my faculty and my academic advisor to present the commencement address. Preparing for the role provided ample opportunity for reflecting and introspection. My take away is a better understanding of what students experience when they step foot onto my campus. They’re often feeling lost, insecure, and overwhelmed. If — after working in higher ed for approaching two decades — I could feel that way the first time I walked onto the Brandman campus (and I did), imagine what my students must experience.

I will carry that feeling with me at work from now on. It will make me a better student advocate.

A crowd can really make or break a speech, and my classmates really built a great atmosphere. It’s difficult to explain, but I could feel them dialed in. Some of my faculty were in the front row, and I could see them nod from time to time in affirmation.

I also had this one strange experience. Every year at my work commencement, I get this odd feeling that a large chunk of the script was skipped. It always happens when we get to the student speaker. I just have this feeling that it’s too early, too quick — and certainly someone must have turned to the wrong page in the podium script. I always have the moment of panic and skim the outline to re-assure myself. It’s never an error, but that portion just seems to come quickly.

Well, there I was, sitting on stage at Chapman University’s football field. I’m nervous as I’ve ever been, but I just know I have a lot of time before I have to speak to the largest crowd I’ve ever addressed. I calm myself with that thought.

And, then, boom! Chancellor Brahm is calling my name. It’s too early. Clearly he’s skipped some pages in the script. Only he hasn’t. And, there I am, at the mic. What a thrill. I’m so glad it started unexpectedly because the nerves didn’t have time to return.

Out of the whole experience, I have come to one conclusion: if you’re thinking about going back to school, do it! People you expect to support you will be there. People who you don’t expect will support you. There are many of both in my circle. Mostly, you’ll find that you’re capable.