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June 2, 2010

A Caring Father’s/Mentor’s Graduation Lament...

First off, I don’t like graduations. I am the Scrooge of graduation ceremonies. I don’t like saying goodbye to students that I have built relationships with. However, recently I was fortunate to participate— and on some level attend— one of SUNY Plattsburgh’s two 2010 Commencement ceremonies. As a faculty member I donned the regalia and participated in the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. As a parent of one of the graduates I sat back and pondered what is going on in the mind of my daughter, as well as the minds of students who were graduating that day. I also wondered what the many thoughts were that probably were running rampant through the minds of the parents. After all, as they watched their now mature, accomplished, well educated offspring preparing for the so-called real world, there had to be varying levels of anxiety mixed in with pride in the accomplishments of their progeny. Am I alone in my mind wandering about their future, and mine, on this celebratory day of ending and beginning?

As a father of a young woman with unlimited potential I am certain that my daughter will find success in life. She is a quality person who genuinely cares about people, especially those who are not as fortunate as she has been. She is intelligent, healthy, gifted, personable, beautiful (well, what did you think I would say, she is my daughter), courageous, caring/kind, loving, respectful, and considerate. She is a liberated woman, socially conscious person, who is a change agent and burgeoning leader. For all intent and purposes, she is ready for the world. But is she? When we were graduating from high school back in the day we thought we were ready for the world, to some extent, and it was years later when we revisited that readiness, retrospectively, that we realized we were not ready at 18 years of age. Consequently, the same can be said of our college graduation(s), only perhaps more so. The commitment of time and energy that is put into acquiring a college education by both the students and parents of the students is huge. The students are the ones deeply immersed in the trenches of the educational enterprise, having to learn how to consistently front load their academic efforts before they invest in party time with their crew or newly found friends. The students are the ones who must determine how much they buy into the hype of any lesson they are taught versus challenging some of those lessons. The students are the ones who must decide if they pursue a major that could pay them big bucks but with little emotional investment. Or study what they are passionate about learning though it doesn’t appear to be an economically feasible choice.

As parents, we want to support our college students’ development. Many of us write the checks for them to attend. Many of us take out loans or get second jobs to contribute to them having the opportunity to better situate them in society. Some parents are ever vigilant, standing by hoping that their children will pay their newly created bills timely and responsibly. And then there are the parents who many times send their children off to college wanting them to learn as much as they can, only to respond to some of the new found knowledge that their children acquire with a dumbfounded “What the hell are they teaching you?” Isn’t this what many of our parents said to us when we came back home eagerly trying to share with our parents our new found knowledge?
And then there is the mental preparation of sending our offspring into the so-called real world without us for the first time. Their attending college, while its own society of sorts, was still somewhat of a controlled environment. We knew residence life staff was trained to respond to the different needs of students, and trained to respond to the different cultural realities of the different students who represent diverse realities on many college campuses today. We know that deans of students, department chairs, faculty, staff and administrators at the best colleges are committed and engaged in being student centered and therefore always responsive, if not seeking professional development opportunities to further enhance their skills at educating and relating to their students. But we don’t live in a world where people are committed to respectfully considering the other. Our now adult children will have as neighbors, in their first non-college life homes, an array of people who have varying levels of sensitivity towards their interactions with others. It won’t all be bad, but it won’t all be good either. Yes, some employers do consistently engage in professional development to assure an efficient, productive work environment. But some employers are clueless about the significance of these initiatives, can’t afford them, or don’t value them. Our newly graduated progeny will be living and working in this world. Am I alone in this anxiety?

I’m a glass half full kind of guy, usually. But if I park my car too close to another car in a parking lot I always think it might get bumped or nicked because it was too close to the neighboring car and couldn’t be avoided (having witnessed how insensitive people are to other people’s property). When I punch in my code at an ATM I am cautious about the privacy I have during my transaction (having suffered from a mild case of identity theft). So, forgive me if as a college professor and consultant to various businesses I know first-hand how people treat each other which often on good days isn’t necessarily good, or ideal. Forgive me if I am a bit paranoid about how my daughter or other protégés are about to be received in our still largely inconsiderate, self-centered, uncaring world. I consider myself a change agent who passionately tries to challenge people to join me in changing the game. With two more of my children in the pipeline, hopefully one day heading towards high school and college graduations, and countless students of mine that I am profoundly connected to, I need to work harder, smarter, and faster. I don’t know if I can continue to handle this type of stress. Am I alone in this anxiety? As students, should your parents be nervous about your future? To what extent are you?