I work for a community college and it’s a special time around here. For the last two days we have been celebrating winter commencement. Hundreds of students learning how to wear academic regalia, one of their final lessons on our campus. (Regalia can be quite complicated!) They arrive with their families and friends in tow, everyone excited and happy and bursting at the seams with pride and joy. These students have worked for years, many of them having given up on education in the past, not really expecting this day would ever come. But here they were, walking across the stage as their name was called, clutching a diploma as they shake hands with dignitaries and have photos taken. It’s always emotional, stressful, and rewarding. This year it was made more stressful by an overnight ice storm, but everything went well despite the curveball Mother Nature threw. Fortunately for me, the ice brought an unexpected opportunity to witness the sort of goodness in people that gives me hope.
Carli being Carli, she wanted to drive me to commencement because of the weather. She knows I am perfectly capable of driving myself but she wanted to take me in the truck instead of me driving my little car on the ice. I’m fine with that, I think it is sweet that she cares for me this way and that she is willing to give up part of her weekend to tote me around, waiting patiently as I run all over the building assisting graduates and commencement guests.
I felt guilty leaving Carli alone while I ran up and down the stairs, radio in hand, ushering late arriving guests to their seats and anxious graduates to their designated spots. Some of my colleagues know Carli personally but most just know of her through me. When I mentioned to two of my colleagues that Carli was alone in room 120 while I was working, they promptly marched in and sat down with her, spending time just chatting, laughing, and generally having a nice time.
Carli picked up some lunch at the student run café, and everyone there treated her respectfully, just as they do any other guest. As I was swinging by I overheard the student working at the counter call out for “Miss Carli” when her order was ready. Hearing her name always makes me smile. Lunch was delicious, by the way. I don’t know what that dessert was, but oh my goodness! Good job, students and faculty!
After the last diploma was handed out, I met up with Carli in room 120, which was now filled with happy graduates, family members, and proud faculty. Many photos were being taken, many happy tears wiped away. One faculty member I hadn’t seen in ages approached us and had some very kind words for us. She had never met Carli, but we all chatted about our gardens, zucchini lasagna, and food preservation like we were just three old friends catching up with each other.
As we were leaving the building another colleague stopped to say she and her family follow our story, they’re on our side and always pray for us. This colleague never met Carli in person before that moment, but she already cares for her and supports us on this incredible ride through transition.
Today I celebrate two of my favorite things……the accomplishments of our students and the friendship of my colleagues. I watched a graduate break down in tears, clutching his diploma to his chest. He said it took him 12 years to do it, but he didn’t give up. I see a parallel in Carli’s path; it took her a long time, too, but she is now clutching her authentic identity because she never gave up.
This is why I love my work and where I work. I draw strength from witnessing the persistence of our students. My faith in humanity is renewed daily by the simple acts of kindness and generosity of spirit exhibited by my colleagues and friends. I watched as my wife was embraced, respected, and loved just for being herself. I helped a family be present to watch their loved one receive his diploma; they didn’t have enough tickets for the whole family but we made it work anyway and they were so grateful. As they were leaving, one of the women in the family stopped to say thank you again. As she stepped down the stairs, she turned and said “there was so much love in one room.”
I agree. I wholeheartedly agree.