Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tradition with a capital "T"

Every college professor has two favorite days in the academic year. The first is when students arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to start the journey. At our institution, we call this "Convocation" and we dress up in academic regalia to process into the chapel. The second is the day when students walk forward to receive their degree in the presence of all of their friends and relatives. On this day (which we call Commencement) we don the same academic garb in order to process into the auditorium and sit in front of our graduates in a special section reserved only for "teaching faculty."

Every faculty member's gown is different based upon her/his educational institution, field of study, and kind of degree. When I completed my Ph. D. and defended my dissertation, I couldn't wait to get to wear my new gear. The gown I wear bears the unique blue of Saint Louis University, with trim in red to reflect my work in historical theology (oftentimes theologians joke that the color represents the blood shed in terms of the years spent laboring towards the degree). Faculty with doctoral degrees also have a somewhat longer hood (which they wear in the back) and a more distinctive cap (in contrast to the traditional mortar board associated with master's degrees).

In another four weeks, or so, we will begin a new academic year. In preparation, freshmen and new students will gather for a period of orientation about a week before. At Greenville, we mark their entrance with a ceremony we call "planting the ivy." Students walk through Hogue Hall (our oldest main building built about 150 years ago) and through the ranks of faculty to a central location where several of them join the college President in planting sprigs of ivy. When they get ready to graduate (we hope within a few years!), they walk back the other direction through the same building bearing long lines of ivy which connect them all together. The President and class sponsors then proceed to walk around the inner part of the circle and ceremonially "snip" the ivy between graduates (being careful, of course, not to part spouses).

I'm a sucker for tradition. These events are always the highlight of the year for me. As an alumnus, I remember the day I participated in these events and, I have to confess, it never gets old to me. There is something about being a part of something bigger than one's self. That's part of the reason I see being a faculty member at a college like Greenville as not just a job, but a calling.