I have just emerged from Graduation Week – 4,500 certificates, diplomas and degrees awarded in person or in absentia through a number of ceremonies. They are marked by great excitement on the part of the graduates and even greater excitement from families and the wider community. And the whole lot brings great pleasure to all the staff – those who teach and those who support.
Such a week drives home the importance of qualifications. They are the currency of learning, the passe-partout for the journey from education and training into the next journey into employment and advancement. It is all very well for those who teach to speak in lofty terms of “learning” and “self-improvement” and other such aims and goals of education. But to the students, at that moment, it is about the parchment.
The quality of the course is neither immaterial nor to be treated in any way other than one that results in high quality in all respects. But the old saying “never mind the quality, feel the warmth” has no place in our work.
Students know the importance of the track that takes them to that moment of triumph when they walk across the stage. As Steve Jobs insisted – “The journey is the reward”; the experience is what leads to learning which leads to a qualification. But the qualification is the exclamation mark that states to the wider audience that the holder has learnt, the holder has skills, the holder is ready to proceed.
It was there with some irony when during that same week I had one of my qualifications taken away from me. A check was being made on my qualifications and a University in New Zealand from which I had three qualifications advised those making the enquiry that I had not fulfilled the course requirements and therefore did not have one of the qualifications claimed. The irony lies in the fact that I was in possession of a lovely signed and sealed Diploma issued to me in 1979 that stated clearly and in beautiful calligraphed script a simple fact – I had fulfilled the requirements.
I knew immediately that this was the result of error. But I was a little surprised at the indignation I felt at it being denied and the level of that is in direct relation to the feeling of delight that those graduates experienced.
This was not the first time that qualifications have caused me momentary anxiety. When I was in Form 4 the school I was at decided to introduce a Form 4 Certificate so that “most students” would get a qualification before they left school. In those days a clear majority of students left without sitting School Certificate on or soon after their 15th birthday. Well a special assembly was called and the certificates were to be presented. The names were read out alphabetically and as they approached the “m’s” excitement mounted – not everyone was getting them. The names proceeded, “Marks, Andrew; Meddling, Patricia; Middleton, Ewen;…” He was my twin brother so I would be next. But the names continued….”Mitchellson, Clarossa; Mousey, Thomas; Mustique, Francoise; …” I had missed out.
Mixed emotions flooded through my mind, mostly around the tricky question of how I would break this news to my parents.
Fortunately an alert teacher had spotted the error and before day’s end the matter was put to rights. Getting the piece of paper mattered.
And so we take great care with graduations and the result is just and fair recognition of people for having “graduated”, not for having enrolled, not for having passed a paper, but for getting the qualification. And families share in this – the pain of the journey ios one that is shared with them, the rewards quite properly are also shared with them.
And when students leave the stage holding their proof of hard work, of progress along the journey of life, the world seems a better place because of their efforts.