By Tony Hooker
Sitting in O’Brien Stadium on a bright, sunny afternoon (Pro Tip: dab a little sunscreen on the forehead and dome, even when temps are in the low sixties) for EIU’s College of Education graduation ceremony on Saturday, and waves of familiar feelings and emotions washed over me.
First, of course, was a tremendous sense of love and admiration for my lovely, talented, smart soon to be daughter in law, Mallory. She has worked extremely hard to get to where she is today and I couldn’t be prouder. The fact is that we couldn’t have hand-picked a better partner for our son to share his life with and I can’t wait to watch the story these two are going to write together.
I was also struck, as I so often am, by the sentimentality of the entire spectacle. Having attended so many of these events as a staff member, I can’t help but get a bit verklempt by the pomp and circumstance (See what I did there?) of the ceremony. For the graduates and their families, the moment was largely a personal one. As State Representative Tim Butler said in his commencement address, very few will remember his words, and I can relate. I know that Jerry Colangelo spoke when I received my Master’s degree from UIUC, but I have no recollection of the words that he said. I was too busy being abjectly relieved to have finished, and I’m sure most of yesterday’s celebrants felt similarly.
The thing that I missed on that day 24 years ago, that has only come to me after twenty years of sharing the experience with so many others, is that those graduates have accomplished something very rare. According to the fabulous DuckDuckGo search engine, (it’s so cool to search for “number of US citizens with a bachelor’s degree” and not be bombarded for weeks with ‘what to get your graduate’ ads) only 6.7 percent of the world’s citizens have a bachelor’s degree, so those few hundred participants from the classes of 2020 and 2021 were truly taking an extraordinary step into the world. I found percentages varying from 29-35 when I searched for numbers here in the US, so I encourage everyone who has earned a Bachelor’s to take a moment to recognize the enormity of their accomplishment, regardless of where your life’s path has taken you. It’s kind of a big deal. Also, a big deal? Having a Douglas County denizen be selected as student commencement speaker, so I want to give a big shout out to Arcola’s Valerie Kuhns, who delivered a stirring and sentimental address about her journey to the commencement podium.
Finally, I was struck by how good we truly have it here in these United States. After the National Anthem, President Glassman took the time to recognize our international students, and I found myself wondering how many Americans would receive similar acknowledgement during commencement ceremonies on foreign soil. My intuition tells me that the number would not be a big one. There’s a reason why so many people are trying to enter the US. It’s a pretty cool place, regardless of what those in power on both sides of the aisle are telling us. I’ll end by giving a little advice to all the 2021 graduates. Go out and make your voice heard. Your vote counts. Live your best life and do what you can to help those around you do the same. If we all did this, we could change the world for the better in no time. Come to think of it, these are pretty solid words for all of us to live by.