If life is a journey, then I have certainly been living life this week. As I compose this text, I am traveling from state to state with six colleagues from Davis & Elkins College on a whirlwind graduation tour for our 2020 “spring” graduates.
Due to COVID-19 our graduates were unable to return to the D&E campus as planned this fall, so we decided to take graduation to them. Thirteen ceremonies over six days will result in about half of those anticipated at our fall graduation participating in a commencement event. These have been graduations and experiences like no other!
Normally campus is the epicenter of the student experience. After a few years of the campus serving as a home away from home, commencement is the culmination and celebration of this milestone in life. That has been the case, at least until this year. What happens when for necessary safety reasons both the physical campus and large crowds are removed from the graduation expectation?
Over the past few days as we have traveled from city to city, it has become clear that the transformative nature of a D&E education is less about the physical campus and much more about experiences and relationships. Though we are blessed with a lovely and conducive campus, the value and uniqueness of D&E is not about real estate, rather it is people, relationships, and the opportunities they make possible.
As we arrived in city after city, we asked each of those graduates, able to attend one of these unique ceremonies, to share the primary factors that positively contributed to their collegiate experience. Without fail, they talk about relationships. They frequently begin expressing gratitude to faculty and staff that both challenged and nurtured them, and they talk about deep friendships with fellow students that they trust will last a lifetime. As I have listened to what they have shared, so often they talk about gratitude that their life journeys included time at D&E. Already, as new alumni, they are recognizing their D&E experience is the tie that binds and will be so throughout their lives.
Literally and figuratively, the journey my traveling companions and I are making to the intersection of our graduates’ lives is reaffirming their pride, devotion, and love to a multi-year life experience like no other.
As diplomas are bestowed, congratulations expressed, prayers shared, and the College alma mater sung, 13 times over we are experiencing Davis & Elkins College in church parking lots, under tents, and at an amphitheater.
The amazing thing is that the experience of D&E is just as powerful as it would be standing on the stage of Harper-McNeeley Auditorium on campus.
D&E is as much a transformative experience as it is a beautiful place, and the unique collegiate experience of our students and graduates is more of a verb than it is a noun.
Life is all about the journey, and this week in particular, the journey is teaching me all about life. How grateful and blessed we all are that the journey continues….