Our Graduates Step Out!
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
I write today, still in energetic high spirits after a beautiful Commencement weekend. Our students make us so proud, and it is breathtaking to send another group of graduates out into the world and to contemplate what they will do next. Of course, they are in very good company: they have the example of over 23,000 living alumnae (and in our graduate programs both alumnae and alumni) who also continue to bring pride to Saint Mary’s College.
Many hands go into making this ultimate celebration truly memorable, and I am so grateful for the hard work of everyone at the College. Just imagine the campus, lit up in beautiful late-spring color, with gorgeous trees, flowering shrubs, and windblown flags. The faculty and staff displayed their festive academic plumage. Graduates lined up with their signature hoods and cords and Saint Mary’s pins. Families congregated everywhere, gussied up on a Saturday in their Sunday best. (Some were huddled under blankets: it was a chilly day!) I was reminded of a delightful poem by contemporary American poet Ted Kooser—but perhaps with a little twist. It’s worth giving you his whole short poem.
Nine Wild Turkeys
It seems there’s been an intermission
back in the roadside brush, and this family,
wearing their iridescent formal clothes,
is the first to step out into the empty lobby
of the gravel road, the stately tom in the lead,
opening each foot as he sets it down
like a man releasing first one silver coin
from his fist and then a second, his wife
a few steps behind, carefully placing her feet
where his have been, fitting them into
his prints in the dust, and the young ones
bunched in the rear, nervously glancing
right and left, uncertain of what they’re
supposed to be doing, shoving each other
as they scurry up out of the ditch, none
to be left behind. To see ourselves
in a family of turkeys is to see ourselves
as God must see us, stopping his truck,
the box heaped up with bags of seed
and manure, even shutting the engine off,
his elbow resting on the sill, all patience,
amused to watch us make our way across.
The “twist” I found myself considering involved who was actually “in the lead” here on Commencement Saturday. I think it was the graduates, who were making their “way across” not only a literal platform, but also a figurative threshold. I spoke with many graduates who had stepped out of their comfort zones and put down their “prints in the dust” of The Avenue, and many of them had one or more sisters following, “carefully placing” their feet where the older sisters’ had been. (Of course, many of our students also follow in the footprints of their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts ...)
I couldn’t help but notice how parents did not take the lead on Saturday, but actually hung back a little bit, pleased and maybe even astonished at the growth of their newly fledged alums. And I recalled how often I had been amazed by my own daughters as they journeyed through college, how I had visited them when they studied abroad in Senegal, Morocco, and Cameroon—places where they developed specific cultural sensitivities that I did not have, where they spoke languages I did not know. Our roles were reversed, and I loved having to follow their lead during those visits. I could see that same kind of awe and joy on the faces of so many parents and family members at SMC Commencement 2023.
It’s worth pausing and “even shutting the engine off” for a few minutes as we conclude another academic year. It’s worth reminding ourselves to be “all patience” while each student finds a path, just as God, imagined in this poem as a farmer or a gardener stopping the truck, is all patience with us. It’s worth making sure no one is “left behind.” It’s worth contemplating, as those graduates cross the stage again in our mind’s eye, the truly meaningful work we have here at Saint Mary’s.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.
May 22, 2023