The Ceremony Doesn’t Grant You a Degree. The Work Does.

By Summer Cherland, PhD
History Faculty, South Mountain Community College

Some days are better than others.

I started my day reading an email from our Chancellor stating that all district graduation ceremonies are cancelled. OUCH. I expected this, but it hurts to read. Many of our students are among the first in their families to graduate high school and go to college. Commencement is a huge freaking deal. Graduation is a crazy, emotional night, full of hollering, and air horns, and displays of enthusiasm that might be considered unnecessary or faux pas at other schools. South says, “Bring it on.” For every graduate, 20 or so people come to cheer them on. There’s hugging and shouting, and our president takes the time to shake every single graduate’s hand before the next name is called. Some faculty used to complain about how long the ceremony takes. What we wouldn’t give for that long, drawn-out night now.

Over the course of the last few days, I have noticed people’s spirits are higher. But, the shorter and less frequent lows are often more intense. We’re establishing routines, we’re enjoying the weather, we’re learning new tools. But then something happens to take us out of the cheer. The grocery store is still a post-apocalyptic, barren scene. The scary numbers of illness and death are increasing. Proof comes that students like ours – those from working-class communities with limited access to technology – are more likely to be left behind amid all this. Some of us haven’t had a hug in like… 3 weeks.

So, how to squash these blues? Here’s my list of things I’m (sort of) enjoying:

  • Experimenting with my work appearance. I’m finding that getting up and dressing for work (my dining room is now my office) helps. The short commute means I can wear my highest heels. I can also try out some looks I never have before! Today, I’m wearing leather pants, an over-sized blazer, and a short-hair version of a topknot. Not sure I’d ever rock this look at school. I’m also bare-faced, with the exception of a bright red lip. Totally unfamiliar – kinda fun.
  • Fiddling with technology. It’s been a week since we started this daily blog. Students are reaching out to each other. We’ve interviewed 5 people and now we’re turning it into a podcast. I’m enjoying tinkering with new equipment and trying out software! Two of my classes started a group text. They send reminders and emojis back and forth to each other. I now know that I prefer Zoom, appreciate Google Hangouts, and have no interest in WebEx until it stops popping up on my screen every time I restart. I also know how to get around weird tech issues in WordPress like “Failed to Upload” and “Saving Failed.”
  • Crying with strangers. Okay, bare with me. (Bear with me?) Last week we ordered from a local coffee shop. When I went in to get the order, the owner was standing at the register, surrounded by upside-down tables and chairs. She burst into tears when she saw me. “I’m just heartbroken,” she said. It was just the two of us, sharing a bizarre and tearful moment in an all but empty restaurant. We stood there, 6 feet apart, establishing an intense emotional bond. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried with someone like that before. It reminded me that this fear, this worry, this sadness… it’s all shared.
  • Learning constantly. I now know that “cancelling” and “canceling” are interchangeable. I call that lesson a useful bummer. I know that we could have called this project “More and More Every Day” or “More and More Everyday” because the two apply to our approach in equal measure. Until today, I never realized I knew how to spell “faux pas.” I also know now that “bear with me” means “be patient with me.” “Bare” means to “reveal,” so “baring with me” would be a whole different barrel of bears. See! As I was writing, I was learning!
  • Creating new teams. My husband has offered to be our “part time co-host” for the podcast we’re launching. My dog has volunteered to be the producer. The cat wants absolutely nothing to do with any of it.
Birdie, the new More and More Every Day producer. She’ll have to learn to take clearer pictures.

I hope our students know how much we miss them. That we are seriously, genuinely, actively wishing we could make everything go back to normal again.

If you are a student, know this: We don’t want you to be scared. We don’t want you to be confused. We don’t want you to think of the work online as “busy work.” We don’t want the deadlines to be all over the place, or for the material to be difficult to be find. We want you to finish your degree and get a head start on life. If you’re confused, overwhelmed, or sick and tired of it, email your professor. Heck, email me! We will do what we can and work through it with you. Just like that lady in the coffee shop, a physical barrier (bearier? Sorry – I couldn’t resist, hah!) doesn’t stop us from being in this together. Let’s get you graduated! A cancelled gathering does not mean that completion and graduation won’t happen. You can walk eventually. Wait, no… you WILL walk eventually. The ceremony doesn’t give you the degree. The work does.

Insta: @SMCCHistory
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