Sunday, May 19, 2019


Sunday Reflection: A private, public moment

Yesterday was commencement at UST law. Because the students chose me as the "Professor of the Year," I got the honor of being the person who puts the academic hood on each student as they cross the stage.

It is actually a tricky job. I'm not an especially tall guy, so it's a challenge to get it over the heads of some of the taller folks, and if you do it wrong it starts to look like a version of human ring toss. Those hats aren't too stable, either, and there is a real danger of knocking them off. And, of course, since the student is facing away from you, there is a good chance of putting the hood over their face instead of around their neck. At this commencement there was a special challenge, too: it was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church downtown, and the passageway by the pulpit where we did the hooding was very narrow, and fronted on a five-foot drop. There was a very low one-foot rail by the edge. There was a pretty good chance that if I messed up, some new grad was going to take a header over the edge.

But, none of that happened.

Instead, it was this series of really wonderful moments. As you do the hooding, all eyes are on you, of course. And yet, there is this intimacy to it, too, standing there with these people we have known for three years. As they came up, I knew many of their stories-- what their challenges were, their hopes, the context of all this fuss-- and it was hard not to get choked up. As I slipped the hood over their cap, I whispered something in their ear, some little bit of encouragement or thanks.

At my own graduation, 29 years ago, Dean Guido Calabresi did just that as I graduated. And I can still hear his voice.

29 years from now, your students will remember your encouragement in much the same way that you remember Dean Calabresi's. And it will matter to them not because you were there to wish them well at the end, but because you were there to mentor, guide, and teach them, truly, from the beginning. As they commence, take solace and joy in the fact that you put them on their way. Well done.
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