Under the Big Top
From the Goucher Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2011
I have found, in my ten years at Goucher, that the commencement season is an especially joyous and rewarding time. Surely every college and university president says this, but I do believe we have something special and unique going on here. Beginning with the Convocation in Kraushaar Auditorium late one afternoon in early May, where we award an ever-growing list of academic prizes and see some of the college's spectacular homegrown talent on display, on through the actual graduation ceremony on a Friday morning two weeks later, the Goucher community is at its best.
There are some very touching moments that not everyone gets to see, such as the Student Government Association giving its annual Outstanding Service Award to the unsung heroes on campus-this year, to the hard-working people from Facilities Management Services who keep the college running smoothly and help the students live comfortably. At the annual Goucher II graduation luncheon, celebrating those who came back to college outside the traditional age parameters, we hear extraordinary stories of determination, sacrifice, and gratitude; there was hardly a dry eye in the house this year.
Another annual highlight is the Donning of the Kente Cloth, a ceremony introduced in her senior year by Kimberley Gordy '06, now an assistant director of admissions and Goucher's coordinator of multicultural recruitment. It is an occasion for students representing various ethnicities and diasporas individually to express their appreciation for the people who helped them attain their college education, as they light a candle and are draped with a beautiful multi-colored stole. Part of traditional West African garb, Kente cloth is a royal and sacred material worn in times of celebration. At Goucher, the design features several symbolic elements that help convey the importance of the occasion: a key, which stands for success; an Ashanti stool, for royalty; and a diamond, for wealth. Here, too, emotion runs high, and one learns a great deal about family struggle and dedication.
Commencement itself had a new look this year, as it moved from its location of recent times behind Mary Fisher Hall to the beautiful and expansive Winslow Great Lawn (made possible by longtime trustee Margaret Messler Winslow '69) alongside the Athenaeum. Under a massive big-top tent, we were able to set up 2,600 chairs and create a setting where Maryland's temperamental May weather would not matter and where tickets for admission are no longer necessary. For those who could not attend in person, the ceremony was live-streamed, and it was viewed by family members as far away as Tanzania, Serbia, Vietnam, and Israel, and many other points around the globe.
Details of Commencement and the words of our splendid honorary degree recipients appear elsewhere in this Quarterly, but we owe many people thanks for the successful transition to this new spot, especially Jill Zimmerman, professor of mathematics and computer science and the chief faculty marshal. Perhaps it is her control of the homemade robots in her lab in the Hoffberger Science Building that makes it possible for her to keep us all in line.
Goucher's undergraduate Class of 2011 seemed to have the usual share of superstars and fascinating people. This year alone, we had eight graduating seniors accepted into Teach for America, a number more often associated with a large university than a small liberal arts college. These students have made commitments to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the United States. Two of them, Morris Johnson and Kelley Moran, won this year's Elizabeth Deale Lawrence '66 and Bryan Huntington Lawrence prize of $25,000 each to reward their commitment to public service and innovative teaching.
One of our graduating biologists headed straight for New Orleans to discuss her research with the 20,000 people attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, and another was off to Alaska to study the effects of global warming on the permafrost. Our house expert on Mongolia used his fellowship from the Kratz Center for Creative Writing to return to Ulan Bator, its capital, where he had previously studied, to explore local folklore for his short stories. Two departing seniors will be teaching English in France for at least a year, and another will be building a website for an orphan-support organization in Rwanda. One of our international relations majors, from California, is joining the Maryland State Police.
The Class of 2011 was only the second to enter the college under our signature study-abroad requirement, and its 354 members participated in 403 distinct programs in 52 different countries. Sixty of them studied abroad at least twice. And what a rich variety of experiences they had: They taught in South Africa, worked at Mother Theresa's mission in India, interned for the United Nations in North Korea, and explored the coral reefs off Honduras. They transcended boundaries (as we say) in Australia, Bolivia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Morocco, Germany, Russia, Slovenia, Ghana, China ... the list goes on. They worked with members of the British Parliament or danced in Brazil. Thirty-two Goucher faculty members led them on three-week intensive courses abroad. Wherever they went, the students had experiences, made contacts, and built relationships that will enhance their multiple careers and enrich their lives forever.
And now we get ready to welcome a new bumper crop of first-year and transfer students, no doubt every bit as impressive as those to whom we've just said good-bye. Thus passes time-and the seasons-at Goucher College.