Looking Back

SJSU Student empowerment image

By Jody Ulate

I stepped out of the Seventh Street garage into a sea of graduates. They were everywhere. As I walked toward my office in Clark Hall the morning of May 23, I passed through a growing crowd waiting for the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business convocation that was about to begin in the SJSU Event Center. I could feel their joy—the kind that springs from challenges overcome and dreams fulfilled. The scene reminded me of why I work at my alma mater, even when SJSU has challenges, like this year. Graduation season is a perfect time to take stock. Before we can move forward, like our graduates, we too must ask: What have we learned?

One hour before the ceremony, graduates approach from every direction, converging on the burbling fountain in front of the SJSU Event Center. Many are already wearing black gowns, orchid leis and mortarboard caps decorated with “Class of 2014.”

They walk down the Paseo de Cesar Chavez, where Seventh Street’s hurried traffic once bisected campus. Some go around Sweeney Hall. And along the green mesh-covered fence of the construction site of our new Health Center and Counseling Services building, where we will help and care for our students. No one seems to pay attention to the scaffolding, the unearthed piles of dirt, the broken, displaced concrete. Instead, beneath the leafy shadows of palm trees that circle the fountain, parents, brothers and sisters, children and friends laugh and smile and pull each other close for photos.

In no time at all, the convocation will begin. What are they thinking about? All those late-night study sessions. The frantic stop-and-go minutes searching for a parking space. Standing in line for that darn treadmill. Or the times they barely made it to class because they had to drop off the kids or pick up grandpa.

There were years of give and take to get here. This year alone, there were experiences that made them raise their voices—and occasionally their enraged fists in the air. While college campuses around the country grappled with their own troubles, the graduates and their fellow Spartans paused between shouts to ponder a most important question: Are we treating each other as we ought to?

SJSU students“We were supposed to be a model for diversity,” many said. “How could this happen?” some wondered. Others were not surprised. “We got comfortable with the word ‘diversity’ without examining its meaning,” a wise person said.

A final San Jose State vocabulary lesson reintroduced the graduates to words like “hate crime,” “racism,” “unsafe,” “discrimination.” But also “dialogue,” “resilience” and “truth.”

The graduates likely remember being pushed and pulled this way and that. Making compromises and discoveries. Losing cherished friends. Finding friends. In class. At work. On Admitted Spartan Day. Ah, friends. Unexpectedly together from the start. Squealing with delight at the sight of SJSU letters of acceptance.

But did they all feel accepted?

Today, as the graduates think back, considering their education, the marching sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” will urge them forward.

Balancing on impressively high heels, a young woman tugs at the corner of her cap, flips her freshly curled brown hair and pulls at her gown to make it drape squarely on her shoulders. She joins the other graduates by the fountain. This is it. This is what it’s all for.

 

 

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