Not To Be Served, But To Serve: My Queens Graduation

Graduation. An advancement from one level to the next, most often in academic settings. In this case, I wondered about whether I would gain anything from attending my third such ceremony, from Queens University with a Master of Arts in Communication, given that the brunt of study had concluded in December and I’d already had the degree in hand. But as others pointed out, and I definitely found to be the case, this celebration allowed my family members and friends to join me in embracing my accomplishments, and have a little fun around a generally positive event. So I decided what the hey, I would go ahead and attend.

The biggest challenge of going to this graduation was simply getting there. The university is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and so my wife and I hit the road for the Queen City on Friday right after work, both tired but also kind of excited. Arriving at my cousin’s place where I had stayed for seven months as last year wrapped up, we made quick work of a fast-food meal and bedded down for the 6:15 wake up on Saturday (who gets up that early, on a Saturday!) We had to do that though, because this institution had scheduled the festivities for 9 AM, and we needed to collect her parents from their hotel and grab a bite to eat. All of this went smoothly, and we arrived on campus around 8 AM, where I met the woman who would assist me on my glorious walk across that stage. She’s the assistant director of Diversity and Inclusion at that school, and I found her to be quite nice, and clearly popular. Fortunately for all of our sanity, she was sitting at the check-in table waiting for me as soon as we entered, calling my name out immediately.

The next twenty minutes were spent trying to stay awake amid the ever-swelling crowds and pondering what I had achieved. I finally felt a sense of satisfaction at being there, and over the fact that things were a lot less chaotic than the habitually worried I feared. And then the fun began.

First, we took group photos at 8:30. To do this, we had to descend some unnervingly rickety stairs into the university’s gym that had her contemplating more than once if we should just find an elevator. I had to convince her that I would be ok going down, though all those strange turns did have me wondering a little bit. It was all good though, and I suppose I could be seen amongst the masses of Master’s students who were also involved. (Queens has no doctoral programs, small as it is).

Next came the processional, where the Charlotte Band, a group of largely volunteer players, played at least four marching songs, of course including Pomp and Circumstance as we filed in. The ceremony was held outside, and so I was delighted that the weather was partly cloudy with low 80’s. We neither cooked nor soaked, always a gamble in early May. The band was loud though for those of us who were right near it, namely the graduates.

A fellow MA Comm student led the invocation, which made me proud. Then we listened to the university president, senior class president, and the Chair of Queens Board of Trustees regale us with silly stories and serious bits of encouragement. This portion wrapped up with Doctor Kevin Washington, the first African-American president of the YMCA, speaking to us and drawing on a Martin Luther King Jr. speech made to his South Philadelphia high school seven months before that great reverend was assassinated. He connected it to the Queens Motto, from which my subject line was gleaned: Not To Be Served, but to Serve. The three main points were these: believe in your values and worth, seek that about which you are passionate, and find ways to translate that into helping others. It was a short but rousing address. Left me thinking about how I can more effectively continue to serve and hopefully mentor to those with disabilities, as well as people from other backgrounds with whom I can relate.

And then the part for which we had all been waiting: the conferring of degrees. Some honorary doctorates were handed out, the most stirring of these being to a popular “dreamer” on campus who had worked with seemingly everyone there in some capacity. And finally, the endless list of names were called. We Master’s folk went first, with the Knight School of Communication being third or fourth on the list. I was instructed to rise shortly before our list was called, and we made our way up a ramp and around toward the makeshift stage. As she said “John Alexander Miller,” my foot made dangerous contact with the podium. The presenter said “watch out for that,” causing my guide to feel a little embarrassed. I told her it was ok though, and was mostly just glad I had managed not to knock it down. They then hooded me, draping the Master’s hood over my neck where it hung alongside my crimson robe representing communication students. A picture was taken, and then I sat and listened to the rest of the names. Of course the undergrads had the most fun, with a couple of them dancing as they made their way across. One even caused the presenter to laugh as she attempted to read the next name. We also had a 65-year-old walk, and he received the loudest ovation from the fairly sizable crowd.

And that was pretty much it. They sang the school hymn, which I could hardly hear over the again pulsating tones from the band, and we recessed. Relocating me was a little challenging for my family, as the crowds near our designated meeting place were largely stagnant. I did get time to converse with a member of my cohort in person, which was interesting as we had shared an online space for two years. After some attempts to find the building we had indicated, my wife finally gave up and called to speak with my guide so they could create another rendezvous point. And with that, we departed to head for the food and fun planned at my cousin’s place.

So all in all, it was an uplifting experience, and one that I hope propels me into my next life phase: finding new work! Some interesting developments are on the horizon for that, but I will go into those in a future post. Till then, as graduate season rolls in, I congratulate all of you who have or will also walk the many high school and university stages. Let’s all continue to remember the Queens motto, as taking such an orientation will benefit society as a whole.