Reflections on PSU’s graduation

I had the honor of attending a Penn State University graduation over the weekend.

The Bryce Jordan Center floor, where we’ve watched so many basketball games was transformed into a pseudo-ceremonial auditorium. Hundreds of blue and white seats faced the dais, decorated with what looked like baby elm trees. Huge blue and white banners adorned the curtains behind the main podium.

And in the stands hundreds of families looked down, trying to find their son or daughter, grandson or niece, telephoto lenses a must to capture a photo of an individual student in a sea of navy blue caps and gowns.

One-by-one they approached the steps at a pretty rapid clip to get through several hundred students in a two-hour ceremony. The grads walked across the stage for handshakes, a piece of paper (not their actual diploma) and a quick photo. Here and there a student earned a shout-out from their cheering section, in spite of the pleas from the administration to hold all applause until the end of the processional.

The moment is a culmination of four or more years of work on a campus for each student; and each student is one of tens-of-thousands. Just around our second-tier seats, we heard several comments about the impersonal nature of it all.

Afterwards, the crowd funneled into the BJC concourse like cattle, making their way to the lawn for photos in the shadow of Beaver Stadium. It was hundreds of small, individual family celebrations, which from a drone must have looked like a huge blue and white garden party, worthy of the Kentucky Derby.

Among the throng who graduated from Penn State this weekend were 135 student-athletes, a Penn State single-semester record. Of those students, 65% had earned Academic All-Big Ten honors with a cumulative grade point average of no less than 3.0, overcoming the packed-schedule challenges of practice, competition, travel, etc.

They also enjoyed the many resources afforded to student-athletes, as well as the rewards of being part of a team — qualities and experiences that will pay off in the real world.

For as large as the University Park campus is, opportunities abound to make small-group connections, whether in an athletic capacity or other shared interest, transforming a huge social pool into thousands of small, family-like groups to share the college experience in classrooms, athletic arenas, and beyond.

So for as big a production as the three days of commencement programs had to be, much like Beaver Stadium on a home football weekend, there was a common thread — family celebrations of love and pride in their students and in their school, like colleges around the country.

Small family groups joined together in arenas-full of celebrating graduates, swaying arm-in-arm while singing the Alma Mater for the final time as Penn State students, excited for all that lies ahead.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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