This Saturday will see the black and orange colors of the University of Jamestown pop up all over the city. Newly graduated students, along with parents, grandparents, spouses, extended family and friends will gather nearby to eat, rest, talk and take photos. Graduation day is the culmination of four or more years of undergraduate school, master's and doctorate work. Written down, that seems so simple, so easy to write, so easy to read and feels kind of like a "Ho-hum, another graduation ceremony" attitude. But for the students, it has many meanings and for some, has had hardships unknown by most.
Yes, there's the dorm, the cafeteria, the roommates, classmates, athletic brother and sisterhood, and all the sweethearts and break-ups, classes and late night cramming. There are the teachers beloved and the teachers not so loved. Yet for many, too many actually, their achievement on commencement day is far more than just the walk across the podium to accept their college degree. For some, it's a first for the family.
Sure, UJ is a small, private school with many students whose parents and grandparents have graduated from Jamestown College. But not every kid who walks on Saturday has that kind of history. For some, they are the first generation to get a college degree. For others, they have gone to college on their own dollar, taken out their own bank loans and had jobs while maintaining a high GPA. There may not be family in the audience to clap as they walk their walk.
Over the years there have been students whose days were numbered and who "walked" posthumously. Some died in accidents while others had unknown health problems that snuffed their flame too soon.
There are the students who struggled with learning disabilities. Smart, bright, intelligent kids, yes; but they just were not the regular kid in the classroom who sat in the desk. They were in a wheelchair or couldn't manage a "classroom" atmosphere. When they "walked" they achieved far more than we can imagine. Few of us understand social fears and the inability of some to manage groups of people in a classroom. But those students have much to give, study hard, produce well and deserved the opportunity to get a degree and earn a good living. When they walk, their whole family walks in spirit.
Most of the graduates will be well-supported as they take that short walk to receive their degree. For that we are thankful. But in my mind, every year, I remember the kid whose mom died when he was a freshman and whose brother was shot the week before graduation. He walked. He cried and so did the faculty.
As Saturday rolls around, every professor there could give stories of students whose lives have been transformed by their experiences in Jamestown; whose future the entire town helped to mold. College towns are like that. The people embrace students for a short time and help them with the next step of their lives. They may not tell you "thanks," but those who come back for homecomings do. They remember the kindness shown them when they were struggling. They remember Jamestown, and not just the campus.
They take tenuous steps forward Saturday as they say goodbye to the campus and their support groups. We'll shake their hands and wish them well as a new group arrives soon, who will repeat Saturday's walk in 2023, when again, the orange and black will shine brightly and the bells will signal another year's goodbye.