Every year about this time I go to my college’s graduation ceremony—sometimes in cap and gown as a “perfesser,” but more often lately in a maroon Sacramento City College shirt that says “staff” on it. Staff at my college are the folks who keep it all running—in this case, the folks in Admissions and Records who put on commencement ceremonies under the most capable direction of supervisor/guru Kim Goff.
Truth be told, I love getting to be part of the staff more than being a professor in cap and gown because staff folks get to hang out in the gym as the gradjits-to-be file in, looking awkward in their black gowns, clutching their mortarboards like the strange creatures they are (“I have to wear this on my head?!”). We have them sign their name on a long roll of butcher paper that will go in the year’s time capsule. We ask them to sign up to be part of the alumni association (I got this gig this year and loved it) and give them an alumni sticker. (I had to explain to more than a few folks tonight what alumni means… and that it’s Latin for “graduate.” One bright person said, “Shouldn’t it be alumnus, if it’s just me—you know, singular?” I wanted to kiss her and tell her about “alumna” for females but add that “alumnus” works for both genders, too. And then I remembered that the semester’s over; I can stop teaching now.)
One of my favorite parts is looking at the students’ decorated mortarboards. They show up with great things on them:
We have staff who volunteer to help students with those tricky mortarboards:
And some just tug at an old teacher’s heart:
And for my nurse friends and family:
And then there are my own students… who are actually no longer my students. Now they go off to the Big School, as I teasingly call the university, and they fly. They really do. Like this guy, Nick Pecoraro, who has been the Express newspaper’s sports editor this year. He’s a gem, already a pro, heading off to Sac State. He showed up two days ago at our end-of-semester potluck looking like this:
This is Nick with his son Lukas, all of a month old, who joins his mom Becky and sister Olivia (below), as well as his dad in the Pecoraro family. (Are they cute or what?) Because Nick’s a sports guy, I’m used to seeing him in T-shirts and shades and a ubiquitous baseball cap. It’s kinda the uniform.
And then, tonight, Nick showed up at graduation looking like this:
When did he become a grownup, that guy in the baseball cap and baggy shorts? Oh, yeah—he was there all along, as all of them are, growing more capable and competent as journalists, reporters, photographers, simply by the doing of it. We offer them a place to practice, and they (to use an overworked sports metaphor) knock it out of the park.
And the next semester we start over again with a new crop of folks, some of them young, some of them older and returning to school, all of them eager and unsure at the same time, all of them who will improve—like the students before them—by the practice and the doing.
It took me years to learn that I actually teach people very little. They teach themselves what they most need to learn. I facilitate and nudge, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I point out technical things and occasionally hear myself holler, “You can’t do that!” when an ethical issue arises. I am an adviser (AP Style spelling). Most of what I do is advise, even in classes where I’m technically a teacher. I always say I can’t teach people to write or do journalism or take photos. I offer advice and guidance and suggestions, which are not always accepted or taken. And that’s OK, too.
I am also a lifelong student myself. Just today I sat at a computer next to our outgoing editor in chief (thanks, Heather) and had her give me a lesson about something I needed to change on this blog. She showed me how to do what I couldn’t figure out how to do and waited patiently as I fixed it.
So much of what we do in the world stems from having confidence in ourselves, which is certainly supported by our families and friends and teachers, as well as by staff folks like the volunteers at commencement, every one of us thinking and saying things like:
You rock, 2018 gradjits. Go out there and believe in yourselves. Do even more. We’re proud of you!
Update, July 19, 2018:
Nick Pecoraro is now a sports reporter for the Auburn Journal. So proud of you, Nick! Check out his story at: http://www.auburnjournal.com/article/7/19/18/introducing-our-new-sports-reporter#.W1Ez7RTdunA.facebook