A special experience

I have discovered the quintessential moment that encapsulates the transformative educational experience of Davis & Elkins College. I watched it about 180 times this past Friday, and the powerful image is burned into my thoughts.

Harper-McNeeley Auditorium was at capacity for the Baccalaureate Service held on the evening before commencement. The culmination of this service of worship is the hooding of our graduates. As our students complete their time on campus, they are asked to choose one member of the faculty or staff who will have the honor of placing their academic hood on their shoulders. This faculty or staff member is the one who has had the greatest influence upon the graduate, serving as a mentor and giving support. Among the faculty and staff, this is a high honor.

More than 180 times I watched as a graduate walked across the stage with an academic hood draped over his or her arm. Standing behind them, their faculty or staff mentor placed the hood over their head and proudly made certain the colorful regalia was properly arrayed. It is a wonderful D&E tradition, but the quintessential moment was still to come.

More than 180 times, I watched our graduates now arrayed in their academic regalia, turn around with a big smile upon their face, and embrace their professor, coach or staff member. Some of the embraces were lengthy, some accompanied by laughter or tears, but all filled with pride, gratitude and celebration.

I believe that embrace is the reason Davis & Elkins College exists. I offer the following as my reasoning for this statement. The professors, coaches and staff members tangibly represent the combination of the academic, leadership, social and athletic building blocks that are the foundation of D&E. The genuine emotion reflects the result of four years of personalized attention that moves way beyond the defined roles of professor/student or coach/athlete. As some will remember from the old television show “Cheers,” at D&E everybody knows your name. However, beyond that simple act of humanity, we come to know and love our students, guiding them when they falter and celebrating with them when they excel. That is a result, partially, of the size of our enrollment, but also intentionally the culture of this campus.

Finally, in the moment of that embrace, we celebrate the joy of the journey. For each of our students, their life journey brought them to the beautiful mountains of the West Virginia Highlands, to the sacred campus that offered them opportunities to prepare for lives filled with meaning and purpose. Their journey to Elkins and D&E enabled them to encounter people who have changed their lives. Whether faculty or staff, fellow students from a neighboring town or a country across the world, their horizons were expanded, and lifelong friendships created. Their journey to this campus exposed them to new perspectives, differing philosophies and ancient truths that will guide their lives. Their journeys now continue to new places and experiences, but Davis & Elkins will always be a part of who they are, and each of them a part of Davis & Elkins.

It was only an embrace. However, I will never forget the story it told … and will tell for generations of students to come.

The journey continues….