Yesterday was our summer graduation, an event I always enjoy. This one is small enough where it’s easier to find students after the event, yet there are still a number of students who are graduating that I want to find and congratulate. Yesterday was no exception, as we had several students from our department graduate, and they were ones I knew fairly well. Two of them, in fact, had gone on trips that I had led, which always leads to my getting to know them better.
Graduation always reminds me of how quickly the cycles of higher education move. One of the students was in my freshman composition course several years ago, while I had only know another for a year or so. In both cases, it seems like they were barely here, that I was still getting to know them, and now they’ve gone on to do other things.
When I was hired in 2001, I only stayed two years. I moved across the country and took a library position, but I only stayed there a year. I ended up returning, and I’ve been here ten more years. In my first year back, I went to an event for our department, and I realized how few of the majors I still knew. In just one year, there was so much turnover that I almost felt like I was a new faculty again. I’m reminded of that old academic joke: I keep getting older, but the students stay the same age.
While I love the constant influx of new students, with their energy, enthusiasm, and new ideas, I also hate that I don’t have more time with them. There have been too many students I didn’t meet until their senior year, where I felt I was only able to scratch the surface of the professor-student relationship, and I hate that feeling. I’ve been trying to get to know students earlier in their career now, to make opportunities to know them better. I’ve found that such relationships make the classroom atmosphere so much stronger, and it helps the students feel comfortable coming to talk to me when they have help.
I understand the cyclical nature of education, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be unhappy with its downside. I’ll continue to enjoy the newness that comes every fall, but I’ll also continue to mourn the loss of students every graduation, even while I celebrate with them.