Commencement is a word with multiple definitions. Commencement means the beginning of something, or it could be a synonym for a ceremony in which degrees are conferred to graduating students. At Trinity University, we held commencement for 502 students on Saturday, May 12. Joyous smiles and, in many cases, tears of happiness marked this special day. And just a few days later, on Thursday, May 17, we held a special Commencement for three graduating seniors who had been away competing in national tennis tournaments. The commencements created moments that embraced both definitions as each graduate opened doors to new beginnings and a journey filled with promise.
Several commencement traditions elevate this season of the student journey. The Tower Climb, one of my favorites, occurs before commencement. It is a bookend moment because students ascend the steps of Murchison Tower twice in their time on campus – once as an incoming first-year student and again just before they graduate. I stand at the top and congratulate them, a rich symbol of their many unique achievements.
Another tradition I enjoy is at the conclusion of commencement. Professors in regalia and staff line the sidewalks in front of the Coates Library and the Conversation with Magic Stones and applaud continuously as the cohort exits Laurie Auditorium. Faculty and staff create what our students affectionately call the Tunnel of Love since it's a personal and celebratory moment. Students walking out frequently stop and give hugs to a faculty member or mentor as a demonstration of the meaningful relationships seeded during their time at Trinity.
Two other traditions have deep meaning to the student groups and their families in recognition of cultural heritage. This year was the inaugural De Colores ceremony sponsored by the Trinity University Latino Association for 24 students of Latina and Latino backgrounds. Each student selected a loved one to drape a colorful stole over their shoulders as a short biography was read in English and Spanish. The stoles, embroidered with "2018," symbolize the diverse roots of many of the students and their families.
This was the third year for the Black Student Union to host the Kente ceremony for 14 students, who similarly selected a family member to don their stoles. Vice President for Academic Affairs Deneese Jones spoke about "The Eagle Who Thought He Was a Chicken." She recounted the fable of an eagle who fell out of his nest and was nurtured by a chicken farmer. Fortunately, a naturalist encouraged the eagle discover its true identity, to grow into the strength of its wings, and to become the eagle it was destined to be. "You are all eagles destined to soar high," Jones told the graduates.
These two traditions and a third one advanced by the Trinity University Alumni Association are sure to last for decades and shape the student experience. New class rings rest overnight at the top of Murchison Tower. The next day, the Trinity University Alumni Association distributes the new rings in a ceremony. As students exit the ring ceremony, they dip their rings into Miller Fountain. Today, returning alumni also make Miller Fountain a first stop to dip their class rings in Trinity water. It is energizing to see new traditions of connection and renewal being created by our community.
Commencement is in every way the key moment of symbolic tradition in the life of Trinity University. The ritual of the music, the processions, the maces, and the regalia heighten our awareness of a transformation that is being acknowledged. Comments from alumni speaker Dr. Mark W. Kline '79, physician-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital and chairman of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, and student speaker Sophia Arriazola '18, a neuroscience and psychology major, remind the graduating students that they will always be Tigers at heart. Each student who walks across the commencement stage – a journey of just a few steps – reenacts the Trinity journey that they are completing, the lifetime Trinity connection they are beginning.
Thank you for continuing to share these special moments at Trinity University, wherever you may be on your Trinity journey.
As Trinity's chief storyteller, I love to share news about the University. But I also love hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me at TUPresident [at] trinity.edu.