A farmer plants crops. The seasons, and the sun, the rain, the soil, all work in combination to bring forth fruit from sown seed. At this juncture in the university calendar what we do feels a bit like farming…and its harvest time.
I have concluded over the last three decades that university life may be more like farming than anything else.
Parents are as proud as can be of those who finish their work. Swollen with pride. But not just parents. At a military base graduation in San Diego a few years back I was moved to tears at the expression of joy and pride lavished on one woman, probably a few years my junior, with two children and a husband looking on as she received her degree from Southern, after nearly two decades of dedication, soil tilling, tending a complex and challenging process in the midst of other temporal, emotional and physical challenges.
This family celebrated a crop as if it came at the end of a forty year famine. Maybe it did. Maybe it was the first harvest of its kind. It felt that way to me.
Those kids and the dad, the husband, knew what was going on, and understood the transformation that was taking place and being marked by this end of season/start of season milestone.
Our University was changed greatly during the fifties by President Morris and his vision, and by fortuitous times – good seasons of rain and sun – but in the end it was a long view of both the place and the people, a view that asked this question, “How can we make ourselves better, as a university, and as a collection of individuals, but simultaneously, stay the same, hold onto our values and the deep principles that make us Southern Illinois?”
We yet have with us what Morris recognized as fundamental to the very fabric of the place. That fabric is composed of threads… and one of those connects our past to our future, through the present.
How do we avail ourselves of opportunity unfolding before us, but hold onto that which makes us good, distinctive, and unique? We must proceed carefully. We can snap the thread. We can become complacent or haughty about who we are, and how we will address opportunity for growth and change. Remember, planting the crop never guarantees a harvest.
It is graduation that reminds us all of this, as surely as a season of harvest reminds us of a season of planting.
Persistence has provided part of the equation. Students and their families persist. Faculty members persist. The place persists. All of this persistence produces fruit. The graduate changes on the one hand but remains the same on the other. The all important seed is there so another planting season can be initiated.
What remains the same in each of us, are the basic values, beliefs and attitudes which have been parent driven, in some cases socially reinforced. They manifest personality traits that give us things like love, joy, peace, perseverance, meekness, goodness, faith, humility, thoughtfulness- – – these bundle up and become the thread that knots a graduate to their family, to the place and to Southern.
At our university, and for this remembrance among many others, we are thankful for graduation.