UMW’s graduation was last weekend and with it came my department’s reception for graduating seniors and their families. Now, I’ve been clear about my affection for graduation itself:
And, frankly, the department reception is even better. It’s low key, everyone’s happy, even relaxed. I really enjoy talking to the parents and students. It’s a chance to brag about our great students to an audience who is thrilled to hear about it.
This year, though, I had three conversations that I’ve never had before. First, I talked with two parents that I had met four years ago on the day they first brought their son to school. We had a wonderful conversation about history, about the liberal arts, about their son’s academic interests, and about my own research (which overlapped with his own interests). He wasn’t part of that initial conversation four years ago, but his younger sister was. Instead, his parents told him about the conversation and he contacted me about getting in to my First-Year Seminar on returning American veterans throughout history, which we were able to do. Since then, he took another class of mine and just completed his senior thesis with me on the relationship between Grant and Meade during the Overland Campaign. [Plus his sister ended up coming to UMW and taking my women’s history course last fall.] So, the conversation I had at the senior reception with their parents brought us all back full circle. We had the chance to talk on the first day they left their son at UMW and on the last day before his graduation. There was an arc to that relationship that felt so right for all of us. Frankly, I wish there were more of these stories of having four years to know students and their parents, to follow the arc of a student’s career in a way that doesn’t happen often enough. I wonder if there are ways we might engineer more of these longer connections.
The second conversation was with parents who I’d never met before, but my mother had. Earlier this semester, my mother, an elementary school teacher in Albemarle County, and I realized that I was teaching a student that she had taught in Kindergarten. So, at the senior reception, I had the chance to meet this student’s parents and we had a wonderful conversation about the arc of that story as well. As the student said when she first found out, “That’s amazing! My education begins and ends with McClurkens!” It was a lovely reminder that we get students who are products of 13 years of contact with earlier teachers, of the many ways that those previous experiences affect them, and of the ways that parents remember those teachers too, sometimes more clearly than the students do.
The third conversation was with a student who was graduating just two years after he graduated high school. I met him at a banquet for prospective students 6 months before he started at UMW and have been his adviser for two years. Not surprisingly, a student who manages to finish a college degree in two years (with one of those semesters spent abroad) doesn’t need much advising, but it has been a pleasure to work with him and to meet his family. Even in those two years he has grown immensely as a scholar and a person, something I was able to see as he was incredibly successful in a class with me this semester. Meeting his family I could talk about that transformation and how glad I was to be some small part of his experience at UMW.
All three of these conversations at the receptions were good reminders that strong connections with students can (and maybe should) begin before they start here, of the role that parents can play in supporting their students, and of the many longer arcs of relationships that exist in our worlds that seem to be typically defined by the year or even semester.