To the Hokie Graduates of 2020 – Carry Your Superpowers
I wanted to write something special for you. I think a lot about the world, about life, about how to make it, hopefully graciously, to the finish line.
And, I’ve thought a lot about all graduates, including the high school students who also lost their proms and senior trips. I know how much fun my children had at prom and their senior trip. I lived vicariously through them (because I never got to go to proms or senior trips, but, that’s another story). But, I went as the chauffeur to their proms, afterparty, and senior trip, trying to stay awake to make sure there wasn’t drinking or sexing happening. I was super excited for them to enjoy those pieces of high school culture.
I know life is about monumental moments. I wrote about monumental moments in December 2018.
Family and friends came together and we celebrated together.
2018 was the year both of my children graduated from college.
Senior years, graduations, and rites of passages are monumental moments. If our monumental moments are taken away, they cannot be replaced. My heart is sad for so many – across the world – that have missed their shiny moments. And, it is not just high school graduations. Weddings, funerals, markers of a life have also been missed. Moments when families gather. 2018 was the year I celebrated 25 years of marriage at our family reunion. It was a year of family celebrations.
We mark our otherwise mundane lives with monumental moments. All that has been affected by the current affliction in the world. That affliction has created a shared solidarity. And with that shared solidarity, there is actually a collective power and potential. We are in this unique historical moment that we will all remember went we were sent to the corner, told to sit down, and shut up, like a strange punishment sent by unknown gods. We were sent into timeout.
Like all timeouts, some of us got sent to our rooms where we got to secretly play with our toys, and pretended we were sad. Others, we got spanked before we got sent to timeout, not even hard enough to hurt our little behinds, but hard enough to hurt our little feelings, and we spent our time in timeout crying and hyperventilating, acting out even more. And some of us, quietly went into our punishment with a quiet acquiescence, counting the minutes until we could be free and play again, like nothing happened.
We are all in timeout, all across the world. And, in this timeout, our parents and ancestors hope that we would do what we are supposed to do in timeout. Reflect on our behavior and why we are in timeout. Most of us rarely thought about that while in timeout. But we did often think about what we were missing while we were in timeout. And so, in my timeout, I’m reflecting on much.
Today, I’m reflecting on this graduation season.
I feel l like I’m a senior, too. I started in 2016 at Virginia Tech. Like many freshmen, I was nervous. I was anxious to find my footing, to find friends, to figure out the whole Hokie thing. I didn’t know if I needed to attend VT to be a Hokie, or if I was Hokie just because I worked at VT, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I was going to be at VT, I was going to a Hokie.
And now, many of you who started when I started are graduating. I know there is a great deal of disappointment at not being able to walk across stages. I love graduations. I’ve been to 10 graduations in my life! Each time, I was super excited. I went to two at University of Iowa for my undergraduate and graduate degree in English. I went to three at Vanderbilt for a master’s, a doctorate, and a law degree. My mom came to each one. My dad never came to any before he died (another story). My last graduation was my doctorate in 1997. I loved the hooding and the sense of accomplishment. At graduations, I always make the people say my whole name. It’s long with two middle names. They rarely pronounce it correctly. They try! But, I’ve always been so excited to wait for my name. I’m also excited for my friends and classmates.
I’ve been blessed to go to my children’s graduations – five in total, including high school, undergraduate school and graduate school. I’ve been to some of my closest friends’ graduations – grown people getting degrees later in life. That’s a real sense of accomplishment and achievement for them. I like the pomp and circumstances, the regalia, the excitement of students and families. I love all the pictures everyone is taking. There is such joy. The smiles….they melt my heart.
I especially love seeing the elderly parents and grandparents. It is such a time of celebration. I love watching graduation ceremonies for particular students whose journeys have just been a bit more challenging. Racial minorities on a majority campus had to really work to fit in. They were often not chose to be part of work groups; they might not have been selected for a fraternity or sorority, maybe because of their skin color or even their accent. Students who were from different economic backgrounds who had to work multiple jobs and struggled to meet every tuition payment. Students with disabilities who needed accommodations and had to have every dreaded conversation with a faculty member pleading for support. Students who identify as LGBTQ who just wanted to be cared about and supported for who they are.
When these students cross the stage, there is that deep pride of achievement. All students have that sense of accomplishments, but for some students, they really didn’t think they were going to make it.
And, there’s the joy of faculty and advisors and staff and mentors who worked closely with students and get to see them cross the finish line. One special graduation I remember was last year in April 2019 at the University of Pittsburgh. I was invited to deliver the graduation address for the School of Social Work, where my mother had received her PhD almost 50 years ago. It gave me chills to be on campus and at the ceremony with some of her friends and colleagues from her time in school there.
So, in all that reminiscing, I understand the deep sadness in the loss. We are allowed to grieve and feel sad. Even anger is ok. We can feel it, acknowledge it, and then, we have to move on.
I want to write about moving on and why as graduating Hokies, you’ll be just fine.
The Hokie community is a unique and special community. It builds certain inalienable characteristics, by virtue of being part of Virginia Tech. I don’t know how it happens, but it actually does. It is an intangible experience, but over time, the air of Blacksburg settles on you and clothes you with certain special superpowers.
One of those qualities is compassion. Ut Prosim (that I may serve) is our motto. It is about serving others, being selfless, being thoughtful. There is a beautiful spirit of compassion at Virginia Tech.
Another is teamwork. Virginia Tech’s culture encourages teamwork, and working in teams and supporting others.
Extraordinary kindness and friendliness. There’s a kindness here at Virginia Tech. You can feel it in the ether. It is genuine.
A little toughness. Virginia Tech encourages just a little bit of toughness. I don’t know if it because we are one of six military colleges, but I think every Virginia Tech graduate has a little bit of built-in toughness. Maybe it is because we are always walking across and through and over a Drillfield, especially in the winter that we have just had to build up a little bit of toughness, but we all have it.
Resilience. Along with that toughness, there is resilience. We are resilient, We can overcome small things and big things and keep going. There’s a persistence that we develop at VT.
Fun. At Virginia Tech, we like to laugh and have fun. We have the Hokie Bird, for goodness sake, as our mascot. The HokieBird epitomizes fun. We will need to carry our fun with us as we go forward in life.
Humility. There’s a quiet, understated humility, though, that rides along side a commitment to excellence. I remember a recruiter once told me he loved recruiting VT students because they were humble and gracious.
Commitment to excellence and creativity. At Virginia Tech, there is a spirit of innovation and creativity. Though we are humble, we are not ashamed to put our work out there, on display, to share our gifts with others and the world.
Hard work. We work hard. I see it everyday with students, faculty, and staff. There’s a dedication and passion to who we are and what we stand for.
So, compassion, teamwork, extraordinary kindness and friendliness, a little toughness, resilience, fun, humility, excellence and creativity and hard work.
That’s a lot of strength and power – superpowers — that you have gotten from Virginia Tech. And so, I hope you will carry these qualities with you as Hokies as you go off to your next adventure. So, put on a cape or graduation gown and cap, and know that beneath all that regalia, you have superpowers that will be your wings and help you soar into your destinies of greatness. And, as you go out, make a special promise to yourself, to create magnificient, majestical, mystical, and marvelous monumental moments.