Graduation: the Best of Times, the Worst of Times?

Graduation is one of my favorite times of the year.

Villanova’s commencement is spread over two days; yesterday was the University graduation and today we had the ceremonies for the individual colleges. Weather was a major concern, and the University had contingency plans in place. However, adding a layer of difficulty to those contingency plans was the fact that the on-campus arena was closed for construction and so where to put everybody was going to be a big issue if the weather did not cooperate.

Fortunately, the weather yesterday cleared up in time so that commencement could be held outside. It was a bit cool and windy, but I loved all the pomp and ceremony, and both the student and commencement speakers offered great words of advice.

Unfortunately, we did not get so lucky with today’s weather. As a result, we had to go to Plan B, having the ceremony indoors.

Without having access to the basketball arena, this meant that it was going to be a bit crowded. The picture above was taken from the atrium in our Business School, and that is only half the crowd. The organizers decided to split the graduates in half, with all of the Finance majors going first, then taking a break, and then having the rest of the majors.

It is at the individual college ceremonies that each student’s name is read and they get a chance to walk across the stage and shake hands with the Dean. There was no space to set up a stage inside, so it was decided to announce a student’s name and then have them walk down the staircase so they could have their moment in the spotlight.

The view in the photo above is taken from the top of the staircase, and as you can see, it is a bit crowded below. And if you were near the back, it made it difficult to see or hear the ceremony.

I stood in a hallway where the students were lined up before heading down the staircase, and as you might imagine, they were quite excited. All I saw were smiles; they seemed to be having no problem with the indoor ceremony.

However, it seems the same could not be said for at least one set of parents.

In between the two ceremonies, I had a chance to talk with one couple who were quite upset with the whole event. They complained about the lack of planning (not really the case), about how some people seemed to be given preferential seating (I saw none of this), about how all the school cared about was money (money matters, but it certainly is not at the heart of what we do), how their child received no aid (which could be interpreted many ways), and a couple other minor issues. It seemed to me that all of these complaints were probably laying right beneath the surface and the less than ideal conditions of the day caused all of them to bubble to the top. I just listened, allowing them to vent.

I then wondered if other parents were having such negative thoughts.

Fortunately I did not have to wonder too long.

After the ceremony was over, I ended up walking talking to a guy whose child had just graduated. He said how great the ceremony had been, impressed with how well the school had adapted to the situation. I told him I was happy to hear that, and mentioned how I had just spoken with a couple who did not feel the same way. He said he understood it probably wasn’t as good as it might have been had it been outside, but when he looked back over how wonderful the past four years had been for his child, the difficulties of the day were irrelevant.

It then hit me – same event, two completely different perspectives. One person focused on the negative (the worst of times), the other person focused on the positive (the best of times).

During the reception afterwards I had the chance to speak with several other families, and they had nothing but good things to say about the day and the event. So perhaps the one couple I had spoken to earlier was an isolated event.

But I know I’ve been guilty of acting like them, complaining about things when they haven’t gone the way I expected. Hopefully today’s experience will remind me that while I am not always able to control a situation, I am able to control how I respond to every situation. And that I do so in a positive way.

So once again, graduation offers me a life lesson.

Congratulations class of 2018!

And congratulations and thank you to the commencement planning committee for making the best of a challenging situation!

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