The 7 Lessons I Learned at Graduation


I wrote yesterday about how wonderful Villanova’s graduation was this weekend.

After writing the post, I reflected a bit more on the experience, and realized there were some valuable lessons I learned that I would like to share with you.

  1. The value of being in the moment. As our students lined up to go on stage, one of the women who works in the office of undergraduate studies was adjusting each student’s hood to make sure it looked just right for the big moment. Many of the students would take the time to say “thank you” to the woman, while other students seemed to not even be aware that this woman was doing this for them. I don’t think it was issue of good or bad manners, since we are blessed with the nicest students in the world. I think it came down to the fact that some of the students were fully in the moment, aware of and enjoying everything that was going on, while other students were distracted, with too many things running through their minds. The result was that many students made a favorable impression on me because of a simple “thank you”, made possible by being in the moment. Another example of the benefit of being in the moment came from our student speaker. I am sure he had practiced his speech dozens of times, and probably was hoping to just go up on stage and deliver his speech. However, he started his speech by making a reference to an awkward event that had just taken place moments ago while our Dean was talking. The result of going off script was getting a good laugh from the audience, which likely put him at ease, and then he went on to deliver a wonderful commencement speech.
  2. You are who you associate with. As part of our graduation ceremony, as each student’s name is read, it is also announced whether they graduated summa cum laude (highest honors), magna cum laude (high honors), or cum laude (honors). They all represent a significant accomplishment, but as you might imagine, there were not many students who graduated summa cum laude. My vague recollection is that perhaps 20 out of 500 students earned such recognition. However, what was striking was that it seemed that when one summa cum laude student’s name was read, it seemed to be followed by another summa cum laude graduate. Since the students get to sit wherever they want, they obviously choose to sit with the students they know best. And the fact that the summa cum laude graduates tended to sit with each other seemed to offer some validation of Jim Rohn’s idea that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you want to graduate summa cum laude, find someone else with the same goal.
  3. The value of just showing up. Faculty who skip graduation probably don’t know what a great experience it is. While attending graduation is supposed to be mandatory for faculty, there is a significant number who do not show up. While some of them have legitimate reasons for missing the ceremony, other faculty simply choose not to go, and that is unfortunate. To me, not only does it show lack of respect for our students, but these faculty members miss out on one of the best events of the school year. As I wrote yesterday, there’s something about all of the pomp and circumstance, and the smiles on the faces of the grads and their families, that make graduation a memorable experience. Plus, all the faculty have to do is just show up, no other responsibilities, yet it can make a big difference.
  4. I’ve got to up my game. As I sat and listened to the introductions of our Honorary Doctorate recipients, I was amazed at what they have accomplished. It made me realize there’s a lot more I could be doing to make a difference. My hope is that being aware of what is possible is the first step in actually making a difference.
  5. I’m getting old. As I stopped to shake hands and congratulate one of my students, his dad reached out and said, “You taught me Advanced Accounting in my senior year.” So now it’s gone full circle, I’m teaching the children of my former students. I remember when I first started teaching at Villanova in 1986, one of the older faculty members put it to me this way, “When I first started teaching, I found the students attractive. As I got older, it was their mothers I found attractive, and now, it’s their grandmothers.” And now I realize the truth in what he told me; while the students I have taught for almost 30 years are always 18-22 years old, I keep getting older each year.
  6. Clean up after yourself. It was a fairly warm day yesterday for our graduation, and the University had provided lots of bottled water for everyone to have. As the ceremony ended and we were walking out, I was amazed at how many water bottles I saw just laying on the ground next to where the faculty were sitting. I think the faculty should hold themselves to a higher standard, and be good role models for the students. Just like Jay Wright.
  7. It takes a village, There’s a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure a successful graduation, and in connection with the first lesson above, I just want to offer my thanks to all those individuals. The graduation planning committee, facilities management, groundskeeping, security, dining services, administrative support staff, and countless others have worked hard over the past few weeks and months to put together another memorable experience for our graduates. While the focus at graduation is on the students, as it should be, and the faculty are prominently on display in their caps and gowns, I fully realize and appreciate that none of it would be possible without a total team effort. It really does take a village to help a student graduate.

7 thoughts on “The 7 Lessons I Learned at Graduation

  1. Wow, Jim, another great entry on your blog. Having just attended my daughter’s college graduation in Illinois a couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed reading a perspective from a faculty member.


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