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The End is the Beginning

by Shari Berkowitz
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Graduation caps tossed in the air

Photo by Shiladsen

The end is the beginning.

Today is commencement. Our latest crop of graduate students will parade across the stage, after many photos filled with laughter and a few tears, and after a grueling gauntlet lasting two years or more.  I remember, quite sharply, how it felt to graduate with my master’s degree in communication disorders; as a member of the faculty, I now get to relive those feelings every May.  Some people hate to go to graduation, but not me.  I enjoy the yearly ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the excitement of the graduates.  This year is also a personal transition for me.  I have defended and deposited my dissertation at last, and will be attending commencement in my doctoral tam and hood for the first time.

The class of 2011 holds a special place in my heart, because the majority of them started their graduate studies at the same time that I started my position at Mercy.  I was a doctoral student at the time, and I was hoping the juggling act of professor/student/person with a private life was possible.  There was so much to learn!  Some of it was mundane, such as where the clinical supervision forms were kept, and some of it was fraught with meaning.  How many tests to give?  How many lab assignments?  What was the best way to measure true learning?  I can almost always find the clinical supervision forms these days, but the deeper pedagogical issues are continuously under revision.  By entering the academy, I am truly learning every day.

We call it graduation and we call it commencement and, of course, both are true at once.  My students are suddenly my newest colleagues, as they march off to varied and interesting Clinical Fellowships.  They are headed to California, and Arkansas, and right up the street, to work in schools, hospitals, home care and rehab. They leave having completed small-group original research projects, something I did not get to do until I was a doctoral student.  The adventure is just beginning for them.  I’m a little jealous.

I look at next week’s calendar.  We have orientation for the new graduate students.  I will meet most of them for the first time that day.  Some will have eyes as wide as saucers, still pinching themselves that they have finally made it to graduate school.  Some will look frozen in terror.  Some will have a veneer of confidence, although it might not take much to shatter it.  All will be eager to start on this path, the long, winding path to graduation.


Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz, PhD, CCC-SLP is an assistant professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.  She teaches courses in speech science, voice disorders, behavioral feeding disorders and research design.  Her research interests include cross-language and bilingual speech perception, multi-modal speech perception and integrating technology and instrumentation into the communication disorders curriculum.  She has been a practicing SLP and feeding interventionist since 1998.

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1 comment

GS May 19, 2011 - 6:02 pm

Shair, your summation of graduation/commencement and ending/beginning is very well put. I too enjoy graduation each year, though the 4 cumulative hours of sitting (2 for undergrad and 2 for grad) take their toll on stiffened body parts. I find myself smiling all the way down the procession; I enjoy when family members call out ‘thank you’ as we pass. I enjoy looking out at the sea of caps and gowns as well as the families and friends of the graduates. I often kid that I never graduated since I have been in academia since I was a doctoral student and began the life of a clinical educator. But in a sense I graduate with each class that leaves us. And like you I then get to welcome a new class and do it again. Not a bad way to make a living!

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