Monday, May 14, 2012

The Beauty in Achievement

Spring 2012 College of Arts and Letters graduates.
Campus is really quiet.  Last week was finals week, culminating in graduation.  All the students have fled the university to start their carefree summer lives.

I've been volunteering at graduation for 6 years now.  I love it.  Yes, everyone's nerves are on edge; the staff are worried about herding everyone in the right direction; the dignitaries are nervous about their speeches and not tripping over the robes; and the students are anxious about having their name read right, finding their parents in the crowd, and are secretly worried about someone discovering that they don't really deserve to graduate.  Parents are proud, bored, and uncomfortable in their suit, ties and high heels.  It's just about the most emotionally-packed event that I attend every year.
Maybe it's the atmosphere, but it never fails that I tear up when I hear the National Anthem.  I'm not super patriotic or anything, but there is something beautiful about our country's song--it is evocative of everything that I hold dear about America.  It's difficult--the range is notoriously high; finding the right words is tricky--everyone from Christina Aguilera to Michael Bolton has messed it up; and getting up to the reaches of "the land of the freeee" is just as hard as attaining freedom in everyday life.

On Friday, the Star Spangled Banner was beautifully sung by School of Music students Quentin Lee and Andrew Surrena, both graduating.  Sometimes I'm so amazed that these 20-somethings reach levels of talent that surpass pop idols.

Then Bruce Aiken, Grand Canyon artist and honorary doctorate gave his speech.  He told the students, "there are some things that are beautiful in life, and you-you are one of those things.  I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your faces."  They were beautiful with the feeling of their accomplishments, the feeling that they had their whole life in front of them.  They were talented, worked hard, and were ready for the world.  It really WAS beautiful!

There has been a little bit of talk in the news about how hard it is to find a job in this economy.  Some people have been focusing on liberal and performing arts majors--statistics show that these students have the hardest time ever finding jobs.  But I would like to point out that liberal art, performing and fine arts majors are also the ones most likely to have enjoyed their experience at the university.  (They are also half as likely to live with their parents--according to the Social Science Research Council.) They have learned how to critically and creatively think.  Their learning process will be a life-long event.

My friends and I have been talking about how it's better to focus on the process, not just the goal.  I think students from the College of Arts and Letters have learned how to be good at this--they know that their experience is about becoming more self-actualized, not just about getting a job.  And especially not about getting a job you hate!  As a society, we are often so goal-oriented that we forget to smell the roses, to stop at the scenic overlook and take it all in.

But sometimes we also forget to celebrate reaching our goals too!  NAU Graduates, celebrate the beauty of accomplishment, and may you never forget how important it is to keep growing, and to keep appreciating beauty in moments of growth, both large and small.

Bruce Aiken giving his commencement speech.

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