“Okay, line one. Follow me!” Bruce Keller, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, called out as the advisor waved his hands in the air, indicating that it was time for the procession to begin. Giddily, I smiled and walked behind my fellow Arcadia classmates into the Kuch Center gymnasium for my second Honors Convocation.
Arcadia University hosts Convocation at the end of each spring semester. The purpose of the ceremony is to honor undergraduate and graduate students for their achievements in scholarship, leadership, and community service. It’s a great opportunity for friends and families to come and congratulate their beloved Arcadia scholars, but, as students, we see things a bit differently.
Just like last year, I was being recognized for earning a spot on the Dean’s Distinguished Honor Roll List. And after my awesome experience at the ceremony last year, I was looking forward to the moment in the ceremony when it comes time to recognize Honor Roll recipients and we are all asked to stand. The crowd then goes wild (well, as wild as a collegiate ceremony audience is capable of getting), and then something else happens amid the applause.
In that moment when we’re all standing together, we get to look around at our fellow students scattered all throughout the gymnasium. These are the people we’ve debated with in class. They are the hallmates we’ve stayed up all night long with, arguing our views of last week’s controversial class reading. They are the people who surround us both in- and outside of class, and they are the ones who help make us the scholars we are today.
I’m a sap, alright? Get over it.
For me that moment of community is the best part of the entire ceremony so I was looking forward to the opportunity to stand beside my classmates again this year. That is, until I was directed to join a separate group of selected students beside the stage.
This year, I had the additional privilege of being awarded the Provost’s Prize, which goes to the student with the highest GPA at the end of their sophomore year. I was informed through a string of recent emails that this year I would be seated not with the larger crowd of Honor Roll recipients but up front near the stage with a small group of other recipients of special awards. At one point in the ceremony, I would be asked to go up on stage and accept the award in front of the entire gymnasium.
Following Bruce Keller’s direction, I took my seat and waited anxiously while the rest of the crowd filed in. Behind me, the members of the orchestra plucked out something classy and sophisticated, but that didn’t lessen my worries. As delighted as I was to be receiving my special award, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would sitting up here in a row of only five people keep me disconnected from the rows and rows of Honor Roll students facing me? Suddenly my enthusiasm turned into concern. I folded my hands across my knees, toying with my fingers.
After the welcome and opening remarks were delivered, it was time. I prepared to stand.
And I was amazed with what I saw.
Last year, I had been seated smack dab in the middle of a row of my peers, surrounded on all sides by the cheery bulk of bodies once we stood. A year ago, I had felt the connection in the room for sure, but this year I realized that I had only seen a tiny portion of the students being honored.
Now when I stood, I had a grand view of the entire gymnasium. Thanks to the gap of a pathway dividing off my small section from the larger group, I had a clear view of everyone around me. And there were so many of us standing. I couldn’t believe it!
I turned to my left and saw that even the student speaker, who had a special spot up on stage, was standing too. Together, we Honor Roll students dominated the crowd, occupying all areas of the gymnasium. I beamed with pride not just for myself but for the massive presence we maintained.
And when I sat down, all my worries were gone. I realized that we didn’t have to be standing right next to each other in the same little sectioned-off group of chairs to feel united. No matter where we stood, we would always have that sense of accomplishment in common. And whether we leave the gymnasium at the end of a ceremony or the university at the end of our college career, we will take that shared sense of accomplishment away with us.