Pomp, Circumstance, And New Year’s Resolutions

Just after Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that I am fast approaching the end of my first year in this community and at Dalton State College. I am always a bit sentimental at this time of year (graduation, Christmas, New Year’s, yet another birthday…), but this year is particularly special for me. I am finally settling into a community that I hope will be my home for years to come. Seeing furniture and unpacking boxes that have been packed away for some time in storage feels like seeing old friends. It’s beginning to feel like Christmas AND home around here. And Dalton State is a good fit for me. Every day, something reminds me how lucky I am to be at a place with such dedicated faculty and staff and such talented and yet humble students.

This past Thursday was our Fall commencement ceremony. More than three hundred students graduated from Dalton State College, and more than one thousand friends and family gathered to help celebrate.  Each December, we invite the faculty member who was chosen for the Outstanding Teaching award in the previous spring to be our commencement speaker.  Kimberly Hays, Assistant Professor of Biology, earned that honor this time. Kim spoke of her experiences in college and growing up and how several key people made an impact on her life. This inspired her to give back to others by becoming a professor at Dalton State in hopes of making a difference in the lives of our students.  She is certainly affecting students’ lives, and she is representative of all of our faculty and staff who care about serving the needs of our students and this community.

Graduations, honors ceremonies, and scholarship awards days are among the highlights of any college campus but especially for the president. Much of the job is, frankly, tedious at best and stressful at worst. All of the meetings, emails, phone calls, reports (and did I say meetings?) are worth it when we see our students achieving their dreams and can share it with the students’ proud loved ones. We are all reminded why we do what we do on these days.

Those of us in higher education struggle sometimes to translate what we do to the business community. “We are not in the business of producing widgets,” we say sometimes. Our business is much more complex. We are in the business of producing successful graduates who become productive citizens. We have little control over the raw materials and are bound by sometimes stifling and ever increasing state and federal regulations and bureaucracy. And our raw materials are living breathing humans with free will and often times complicated lives.  All the more reason it is so rewarding to see our students triumph over their obstacles and make us all proud.  I have had the privilege of working closely enough with students this year to feel as proud of many of these graduates as I would if they were my own sons and daughters – or sisters and brothers in the case of our nontraditional students.  When Pomp and Circumstance starts playing, my eyes always well up with tears. On the day I no longer feel so emotional, I hope I will retire. Until then, I am a proud president full of hope for the future with our graduates in charge.

As I ponder my own New Year’s Resolutions, I wish for all of us a very Happy New Year with health and joy, surrounded by friends and family and many more graduations.