Reflections on Commencement Day from President Nowaczyk

Jun 20, 2018 3:00 PM

Commencement recognizes the “beginning” of a new stage in life based on achieving the privilege of a college degree. I cherish my role in Frostburg State University’s commencements because it allows me to touch all of those new beginnings.

With two commencement ceremonies each May and another in December, by the end of each year, I have shaken hundreds of graduates’ hands. They should be long and tiring events, standing in my doctoral regalia through all those graduates, but the joy and anticipation in the room energize me. It truly is a privilege to stand on the stage that day!

My connection to each graduate that day lasts about 20 to 25 seconds. It starts when a student’s name is called out, their family and friends cheer, and they make their way up the stage ramp toward me. I take the opportunity to add my words of congratulations, shake their hand and hand over a rolled-up certificate, which looks great in all those commencement day photos. (The real diploma comes in the mail a few weeks later!)

In between, I think of the unique stories behind each graduate’s journey – those I know personally, those that have been shared with me by other faculty or staff, and those I can just guess from the medallions, cords or sashes they are wearing that signal memberships, experiences and achievements.

When I am congratulating each student, I listen for the student’s first name to make the congratulations personal. For those students that I have gotten to know during their time here, I can add something more to my congratulations. I also listen for those students who have achieved academic honors especially those who are summa cum laude. There also the veterans and active military that I recognize, and the older adults who have earned their degrees while juggling other responsibilities.

In all of these cases, I want the students crossing the stage to take the walk slowly and savor in the recognition for what they have accomplished. I remember one student in particular, a Vietnam veteran who had gone through so much more than most to make that walk. He rushed up the stage ramp, but I grabbed his hand and made him stop, telling him to enjoy the moment, that he had earned it.

I also think, in the back of my mind, what a future president 20 or 30 years from now will be talking about with today’s graduates when they have become successful alumni. I’ll picture them reflecting back on how Frostburg State University changed their lives, truly “commencing” – setting them on a new path.