A few years ago, I remember North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball coach Roy Williams getting some ridicule for choking up and getting a little teary while talking about his team’s seniors at an end-of-season news conference.
(There are some folks who think that any show of emotion other than chest-beating in sports is unbefitting an athlete, but then that’s another blog post.)
I thought the criticism was unwarranted and I think about it this time each year. We’re five days away from Graduation at Wingate University, where I’m finishing my 20th year on the faculty. And in those two decades, I’ve felt Coach Williams’ emotion quite a few times.
At the end of each school year, I have to say goodbye to a group of seniors in our major that — at our small school — I’ve worked with in at least two or three classes and sometimes as many as six or seven.
I’m happy for them having achieved a major milestone in their lives by getting a college degree. But I’m sad to think that I’ll no longer see them on a day-to-day basis. On a handful of occasions, I’ve teared up from happiness that that’s the case, but those are rare — and if you’re one of my current batch of seniors that doesn’t apply to you…
Today is the last day of final exams, and the goodbyes have already started as some of my students are stopping by to wrap up internships, check that they’ve turned in everything they need to turn in, or just to say thanks for everything. A couple have left cards or little gifts — I enjoyed the little bag of Godiva truffles — which I appreciate. (And in case you’re wondering, ti’s the ones who really didn’t need to bribe you that do the thoughtful things.)
So we’re almost done and it feels good to get to the end of another school year, where I get the sense of finality that usually doesn’t come to me in my academic job. It’s very different from my journalistic work, where that “the work is done” feeling kicks in every time you’ve met a deadline. In academics, there’s always something every day you left unaccomplished.
At Wingate, one of our current marketing taglines, and one of the better ones in my opinion, tells prospective students they can come here and “major in a great life.” My yearly hope is that we’re preparing them for that. I hope every member of the Class of 2014 has one, and that we (faculty, coaches, staff members) will remain a part of it.