Community of Action

1IMG_4856by Steph Holton

In my last blog post, I talked about failing my student commencement speaker audition, and since then I’ve realized that the things I’d hoped to be able to say to my graduating class are still words that I want to share, and ones that are just as true here as they would be on that stage. So to all of my PSU classmates, I’d like to say:

“Four years ago, when I stood in front of my high school graduating class of 121 students, I talked about the future. I talked about taking the lessons we’d learned from our parents, our teachers, our coaches, and going out into the real world to—eventually—do great things.

“Today, with this… marginally larger audience, I want to talk about the amazing lessons I’ve learned from you, my fellow students, and the great things you’re already doing.

“In our time together at PSU, we’ve seen newsworthy accomplishments—like our engineering students launching a balloon more than 20 miles in the air in order to bring the 2017 solar eclipse to the desktops of viewers worldwide, and students of different skin colors, religions, and nationalities rallying together swiftly and peacefully to stand for our rights to safe communities, women’s healthcare and affordable schooling.

“And then there are the more subtle, everyday accomplishments. It’s not uncommon to see complete strangers sharing their opposing viewpoints in the middle of the Park Blocks, or to inquire about someone’s pronouns, and then use them correctly. And even though at PSU we recognize that conversation, understanding, and respect are basic tenets of good citizenship, and that we still have a lot of room to grow in these areas, they’re not common practice on every campus. PSU is special because we don’t look past each other’s differences. We embrace them. We recognize that our different backgrounds and beliefs and aspirations are assets in our collective pursuits for a better world.

“Four years ago, I left my little Montana valley town for the stumps and bridges of Portland, and I’ve learned here that more than anything, it’s the small, everyday practices—recycling, asking others’ opinions, embracing difference—that make us all activists. I am so proud to be a part of this community of action, and I want to thank you for teaching me to appreciate the amazing things we’re doing right now.”

Commencement Conundrum

After four and a half years, two universities, two stints abroad, and hours upon hours spent pleading tearfully with academic advisers about my transfer credits, I am finally (FINALLY!) going receive my bachelor’s degree. I’ve fulfilled all of my University Studies and major requirements, done the proper paperwork and paid my “graduation fees” (since I haven’t poured enough of my money into educational institutions already, thank you very much). My GPA is even high enough to graduate with honors. All of this — and I still don’t know if I will graduate in the traditional sense.

You see, Portland State, unlike some other institutions, doesn’t offer a commencement ceremony in the fall term. Last summer, when I learned that finishing college was within the realm of possibility and I began envisioning my stylish cap/gown/diploma ensemble, I discovered that my only options were to walk at the summer commencement or wait until the spring ceremony. (Note to future graduates: I also learned recently that last summer was actually the last summer  term commencement ceremony at PSU, so keep that in mind when making your own graduation plans!)

To me, these are hardly satisfactory options. An early commencement would mean taking part in a ceremony celebrating an accomplishment that I hadn’t fully accomplished — the fact that I’d be returning to classes a few weeks later made the whole prospect seem rather anti-climactic. And as for waiting until next spring to walk, well, I don’t even know if I’ll still be living close enough to Portland to attend.

PSU seems to pride itself on being accessible to so many non-traditional students – I know I’m not the only student whose academic career has not fit into the standard four-year college plan. I just wish that our university was equally accommodating in celebrating the achievements of its non-traditional graduates.