Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out of the hallowed halls and into the world

Nine of the graduate students for whom I am administratively responsible graduated with doctorates this month. These are intelligent, analytical, persistent, no-nonsense types: they need to be so to earn a doctorate in engineering.

I am so proud of them. For all, their graduate career was characterized by challenges overcome, unfairness absorbed, frustrations dealt with. There were difficult, and sometimes unreasonable, advisors. The culture shock. The oppressive volume of paperwork. The red tape. The seemingly conflicting rules. The late nights. The papers published.

But when they walked across that stage and allowed themselves to be hooded, I was bursting with pride. I could sense what it must be like to be a proud mother. And they should have been also.

The majority were international students, excelling in very difficult courses taught in a language other than their native tongue, but also overcoming the cultural differences, the homesickness, the multiple demands on their time, financial constraints. Imagine being dropped in Beijing, Istanbul, Seoul, Hyderabad, or Taipei and negotiating the demands of graduate school, as well as dealing with cultural differences.

There were a few nontraditional students, sometimes battered by life, but finally taking control, committing, then pushing them through graduate schools.

Variously, I was in loco parentis, sometimes a coach, sometimes a dispenser of tough love, sometimes an advocate, sometimes a shoulder to cry on, and always a bulwark against the juggernaut and bureaucracy that is this enormous state university.

Last Saturday, I volunteered to serve as a graduation marshal, lining up masters students in alphabetical order. They seemed to leave a vacuum in their wake as they silently and quickly filed out of the gym-cum-staging area en route to the arena floor in their regalia.

Go forth!

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