When walking across the stage means a new life

For so many, the beginning of June is a period of transition. After graduation, there’s the start of a new job, or the continuing search for one. It’s a time of joy and even anxiety or anticipation about the future.

Initially, when I thought about my graduation from graduate school, I didn’t think it would be momentous. I had walked across the stage a few times before and received my diploma. Nothing magical ever seemed to happen. Perhaps that’s because I knew it was a continuation of the same: walking across the stage simply acted as a doorway into continuing education.

This time, the doorway was closed. The next time I walk across any graduating stage, it will be in the role of faculty or mentor. When that realization hit me, suddenly graduation day seemed impactful and real. I wasn’t just receiving a diploma bearing the inscription, “Doctor of Philosophy.” It was the end of a long and hard journey.

When my advisor placed my academic hood over my shoulders, I had an epiphany. Up on the stage, I could see my family and friends; behind me was my advisor. All of them had encouraged me and challenged me. It wasn’t just my moment of achievement; it was their moment, too.

Being herded into the arena alongside graduate students and undergraduates, I realized significant differences between the walks across the stage. The biggest difference was a realization that I had – it’s not only about the graduate. My family has sacrificed so much and worked so hard to provide me with the ability to continue my education.

My parents weren’t college graduates, but they fostered in me a hunger for learning and knowledge, creativity and discovery.

That same hunger is what I now try to instill in my students. My husband has – and continues – to support me in all my unknowns and has never discouraged me from doing something that could further my career.

Graduation is not simply a time for the closure of a door. We understand that, as graduates, we’ve faced a number of challenges and accomplished many things.

But now we move into a different chapter, where we should anticipate new challenges and demands. We will be asked to do more and accomplish greater things, using the gifts that God has given us.

All of my college degrees have come from Jesuit universities, so I’ve never experienced a graduation where graduates weren’t asked to continue to search for and find “the magis” – truth – in all aspects of their lives. Part of that search comes from acknowledging and accepting the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

God has always provided for me. Whenever I’m in doubt about something, I always remember that, and it provides a great sense of comfort. He provided my family, but he also provided my friends and colleagues. Throughout my academic journey, I’ve learned more about friendship and collaboration, as I’ve realized that no one survives graduate school alone. My professors and my friends have crafted my journey and enabled me to see the potential in myself and my work.

This summer, as we transition into the next chapter, we should remember the celebration of our graduation. Hold on to the feelings of excitement and joy that carried us across the stage and use that excitement to “set the world on fire.” We should accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit and do all that we can for the greater glory of God.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.  

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