Monday, May 18, 2015

Growing a crop of graduates

No one likes to say goodbye. But twice a year I do it with a wistful smile.
For graduation week at the University of Missouri, I put on my bright green doctoral robe, cocked my tasseled tam and made march of pomp with my professorial colleagues.

With us on the arena floor, scores of black-robed students laughed nervously. In the bleachers around us, parents looked on with that special mixture of emotions: pride in accomplishment, relief in completion and worry in a yet-unsettled future.

I understand those emotions – mine are just as mixed. But let’s step back a few months.

Professors could trade their fancy robes for bib overalls. What we do is very much akin to farming – with a 15-week crop cycle.

We do an awful lot of plowing the first few weeks of the semester. We dig up the bits of knowledge students picked up from other teachers, turn it over repeatedly and mix it well with composted lectures.

When their brows are properly furrowed, we plant the seeds of knowledge and cultivate intensely. Somewhere around midterm, they sprout. Or at least the lights go on in their eyes. From that point on it's a race to keep ahead of them.

Then at the end of each fall and spring semester, we harvest the best of them.

Watching the students you impatiently tended walk across the stage and into their future is the greatest reward of teaching. It comes with a cost, of course. By the time they get to caps and gowns, they have a piece of us with them. And as proud as we are, it hurts when that piece goes away.

There's a secret to making the most of academic life, though.  It's the same tip that a student speaker gave to his fellow fledgling citizens of the world:

"Keep moving. Just don't stop moving."

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