For University faculty, Commencement a special day

4:45 p.m., May 30, 2009----Commencement at the University of Delaware is a special day not just for students but also for faculty, who have worked closely with those students to make a degree -- or multiple degrees -- possible.

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Here three faculty members -- Lynn Worden, Audrey Helfman and Rob Palkovitz -- reflect on the significance of the day.

Lynn Worden

Lynn Worden, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has attended every College of Education and Public Policy convocation since she joined the UD faculty.

“I have gotten to know many of the graduating students quite well either through advisement or as they complete their 18 weeks of student teaching, which I coordinate,” she said. “For the past couple of years, I have had the honor of reading their names at convocation.”

Worden added, “One of the reasons I attend is to give the students one last hug (some of them jokingly say I'm like their mom). I think it's exciting watching them take this final step before they are launched on their careers. I know my role in their progress towards being professional educators and human services workers was small, but I want them to know that we are proud of their accomplishments and wish them success.”

Audrey Helfman

Audrey Helfman, associate professor in the School of Urban Affairs, said she attends both Commencement and college convocation “because I get very attached to the students and want to be there to see their big send off.”

She added, “My husband, Lynn Herman, is a marshal for our college convocation, so I can include him in the excitement of the day.”

Rob Palkovitz

Reflecting on Commencement, Rob Palkovitz, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said, “Commencement is a ceremony that marks a significant life course transition: graduation from college. For many students and their families, the festivities demark achievement of a life-long goal: to complete a college education. For some, this is the greatest educational attainment in their extended families, a proud accomplishment for sure. For many it is the last pin at the edge of the known territories of the life map. It comes right before more general and less scripted goals (getting an unspecified job, 'settling in' to adult life, financial independence), thus launching the graduate into a trajectory that is less bounded by formal programs, degree requirements and safety nets.

“Because one of my favorite functions as a faculty member is to teach many majors in a 200-level class that focuses on life span development, change and transition (for most when they are freshmen or sophomores), I really enjoy seeing them at Commencement as they approach the podium to be recognized, credentialed and congratulated. As they traverse the platform, they close out a significant chapter in their lives and cross over toward the next phase of new challenges, unknown adventures and great hope.

“During their years of study, they competed for grades and class rank. Commencement serves as a great equalizer. All of the graduates 'made it.' Today the turf is leveled, it is not a day to compete or compare, it is a day to come together with classmates, friends and family to celebrate a shared significant accomplishment.

“For me personally, Commencement gives me a sense of purpose, grounding and fulfillment. I remember that I am one of a number of colleagues who have decided to invest in the development of people. As we teach, counsel and facilitate the development of our students' understanding and skills, we are generating a cadre of capable teachers, human service workers, counselors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, community members, spouses, and parents ... alumni who will go out from here and touch many lives in many capacities.

“Participating in Commencement, I share in their sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of completing a long term and significant goal. I enjoy watching them as they launch into their future education, careers, relationships ... the things that mark important turning points in our lives.”

Palkovitz added that Commencement provides an opportunity to step back and refresh one's point of view.

“During the routines and random events of the academic year it is easy for faculty to get caught up in the whirlwind of the multiple tasks that we regularly engage in: publishing research, grant writing, reviewing journal articles, attending committee meetings, setting policies and procedures for programs. Though these are necessary and important functions, in some ways they are distractions,” he said. “Commencement serves as an annual re-alignment for me, helping me to center on the 'stuff that matters.' At the busiest time of the year, Commencement brings me back to a grounded sense of purpose. THIS is why I'm here -- to have a role in teaching and supporting (and learning from) a cohort of people who are transitioning into navigating the next steps of their lives -- lives that will inevitably shape the opportunities and hopes of many others.

“Commencement helps me to remember the privileged role that faculty have in helping to support the success of people who will, in turn, bring opportunities to others. Commencement is a celebration of shared effort, relationships, purpose, and success.”

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