Today was graduation.
It is strange being on this side of it. I have been to so many of these things, but this is the first time I have experienced it as a faculty member.
I did not have too many seniors in my classes (in fact I don't have any this semester). I did advise a few of them on their theses, but I did not interact with them all that much. Except for one.
L. is a mexicano - from Michoacan. His parents moved up here ten or so years ago to work in Yakima, Washington. He managed to work hard in high school and he took advantage of the opportunities available in this country, including coming to this college. Eventually his parents went back to Mexico, but he stayed here working over the summers and breaks to be able to finish his college education.
Even though L. is the first member of his family to go to college, he was under extrordinary pressure to become a medical doctor. He pursued premed the first couple of years, but he was then seduced by the magic of anthropology and he changed his major last year. Although he did not fulfill his family's expectations, he was happier with his new field of study.
As he entered his senior year, he had found a fulfilling field of study but he had not found a mentor. He needed direction: for his thesis, for his post-college plans, for his life. Why he had not found someone to help guide him through these issues, I am not sure. Perhaps it was because there are so few Latin@/Mexican faculty at the college; perhaps no one here understood his particular cultural and social background; perhaps no one took the time to really listen to his concers; or perhaps he just did not click with anyone here.
L. was one of the students I met when I interviewed here last year and he was one of the first who wandered into my office when I started my position here. We spoke both in English and Spanish. English for school related issues and Spanish for more personal issues. As the year proceeded his thesis ideas blossomed, albeit at times with some necessary coaxing. His career goals went from uncertainty, including a conviction that he did NOT want to graduate school, to a desire to combine his interests in anthropology, science, and his community.
In the end, L.'s thesis was good, not great. The ideas he engaged were very sophisticated, but he just ran out of time. Another semester and he would have had something that could possibly be published. He is now planning on going to grad school, so he will have an opportunity to go back to and work through it some more. It will have to wait, though. He will be busy over the next two years working with Teach for America in Miami.
So L. walked across the stage today and when he did, I was proud of him.
He invited me to his big fiesta with his family afterward. He wanted me to meet everyone. His parents were still in Mexico, though. They could not get the visas to come. I still got to meet tios, tias, la abuelita, primos, primas, and el hermano. I also got some great carne asada with beans and rice.
As I was leaving, L. took me aside and thanked me for the time and advice I had given him. I thanked him for his hard work, for his dedication to the community, and for being another role model for some of the younger people in his family and for others in his community. I know someday someone somewhere will be thanking L. just like he thanked me. We just need to keep passing it on.
I just hope I am still in touch with L. when that happens.