by Nikki Steinberger
What is the purpose of college? I think many of us have had to answer that question at some point or another during our time in graduate school, especially those programs directly related to higher education. As I very happily sat in the second row for the graduation ceremony for the College of Education Master's and Bachelor's degree candidates, I was proud of myself and my cohort, but the Student Affairs professional in me was also proud of all of those achieving a college degree. Those thousands of students sitting behind me - some of them first generation graduates, have achieved so much, yet I looked around and heard some whispers that didn't make it seem that way. There were some students that walked in their black gown and black cap, and others that had 10 cords, a Greek stole, and honors recognition. Is one better than the other? Some people around me thought so, and I even questioned it for a minute. Side-by-side does one of those students have a more successful four years than the other? I don't think so. Graduating from college with a Bachelor's degree is still a major accomplishment, but I think we sometimes lose sight of the huge feat that is because we are often working with very high achieving, sometimes overly involved students. When I took a second to think about it though, we should not be diminishing those that 'didn't do anything', as those around me worded it, because the truth is, they did. They did a lot, and they achieved a respected degree from a very well respected school. That should be cause for celebration. That certainly doesn't take away from our students that get involved in student organizations, Greek life, housing, orientation, etc. There is something to be said about those graduates that were able to manage co-curricular activities while enrolled, but that doesn't make them better than their black robed counterparts.
I urge us to think about our role when it comes to getting students across that stage. Many of our institutions have Student Affairs specific mission statements that have us support the academic mission of the institution. We have to make sure students achieve their academic goals first and foremost, and that alone is a major accomplishment. I think sometimes we lose sight of that fact and look at how many cords and sashes a student wears across stage and measure their success as a student by how heavy their regalia is. One size does not fit all - we know that. One student's measure of success is not the same as the next. We need to support all of our students in the best way we know how, and celebrate them individually whenever possible. Nobody earns a Bachelor's degree 'without doing anything,' no matter how many or how few cords they leave with.