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OPINION: From graduation to commencement — what’s next?

by Staff Reports | June 8, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

The month of May is filled with the many ceremonies of young people finishing school and being recognized for their accomplishments. And, if you happen to belong to a large family, you obviously have a large number of places to go and ceremonies to attend. It's a difficult schedule to faithfully keep, but all graduates are important and need to be recognized.

Our extended family keeps getting larger and larger, so we identify with the effort to be faithful during the month of May. To that end, let me share some observations.

First of all, have you ever noticed that we normally do not have "graduation" services; we have "commencement exercises/services." Yes, without a doubt our graduates are finishing a prescribed educational program and need to be recognized for their accomplishments, but those are past activities. It is the future that is both scary and exciting. What does the future hold for a graduate? He or she is about to commence upon a new set of goals seeking another group of accomplishments. It may be beginning, a new course of study, or perhaps a new job, but it most certainly is a new life about to commence with all of its limitations and possibilities.

If you're like we are, one of the big questions facing us when confronted with a family member who is graduating involved is gift giving. What kind of gift do we give a graduate? If we attempt to give something tangible, too often we fail since everything changes so fast it is not really possible for us to know what is appropriate or meaningless. If you happen to give the wrong thing, I can assure you that it probably is not going to be used. Computers, laptops, phones, watches, etc., change so often most of us don't even know what is current. So, if you're like we are, we begin to think about giving money, usually a safe gift, but too often squandered before a thank you note is sent out.

So, if you are giving the gift of money, how much money do you give? I guess that it probably depends upon how many gifts you have to give, but not always. I have found that sometimes those with more money give less, and those with meager resources often give far more than expected. I'm sure someone has a guide as to what to give, but I also suspect it's a little like tipping; it all depends on who you ask. So, give what you can but give it with a prayer that it will be received with your heartfelt wishes.

And then, let me offer a word of guidance to graduates receiving any kind of gift. No matter what the gift happens to be, all gifts are given with good intentions and deserve to be recognized. It's disgraceful to receive a gift and not even acknowledge it with a thank you until a mom or dad either prompts you or else sends the thank you note in your name. Maybe you did not learn manners during your course of education, but you should have. As you commence into a new life, your attitude will define the pathway you choose.

Having said the above, it is time to focus on the most difficult part of a commence exercise service -- attending it! It's not so bad if the school happens to be small and the number of graduates also is small, but what about large universities? Unfortunately, I (and a lot of other grandparents) no longer have the stamina to sit through a three-hour service without stretching or utilizing the restroom facilities. Obviously, every college graduate deserves personal recognition for his or her accomplishments, but it is laborious to watch two thousand graduates receive their recognition while you wait for only one.

We attended a very special commence service recently and were gratified to watch our grandson parade across the stage, shake hands with the dignitaries, and then receive his diploma. Still, we have to wonder if there was not a better way to handle the activities. And, to make matters worse, too many graduates ignored their classmates by simply walking off and joining their families and friends while the service was still going on. Perhaps graduates could be recognized by groups instead of individually.

Regardless, the month of May is a time of rejoicing for individuals completing a course of study and looking toward the future. Our world is waiting, perhaps not patiently, but waiting for the leadership our graduates will provide in the days to come.

Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 30 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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