By noon Dec. 12, the sign announcing Concordia University-Portland’ s fall 2015 graduate commencement ceremony had been soaked through. Bone-chilling winds and consistent showers turned the Saturday afternoon into a gloomy and cold affair outside. Inside, however, the warmth and glow radiating from hundreds of master of education graduates and their family members created an entirely different atmosphere.
“Concordia was given to me,” beamed Selena Burnett, a kindergarten teacher from Detroit who earned an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in the Inclusive Classroom. “It’s a great day.”
The mood in Concordia’s crowded gymnasium was festive, no doubt bolstered by the lively Christmas carols provided by the brass quartet near the stage. As graduates poured into the facility, their families cheered. “That’s my wife!” shouted a man somewhere in the audience. The stands thundered in applause and joined in a boisterous group hymn of “Joy to the World.”
The ceremony, in which online and on-campus students alike received their diplomas to full fanfare, was as much about celebrating achievements as it was about the road ahead.
“Commencement is not just a ceremony where students receive their degrees,” intoned MEd graduate and speaker Krista Reynolds, “Today is about beginnings. Your sendoff to create a better future for both yourselves and your students.”
Many students shared her mutual excitement regarding the new era in their professional lives. “I’m going to be able to take the compassion that was given to me by my professors and impart it to my classroom,” Burnett said after the ceremony.
Classmates without borders
The ceremony also provided online students another rare opportunity: to meet their fellow students. More than 300 online Concordia Portland students were eligible to attend the commencement ceremony.
“How many here are visiting our campus for the first time?” asked Dr. Charles Schlimpert, the university president, during his opening address. Over 80 online students enthusiastically raised their hands in response. “We’re glad you’re with us today!”
As students and faculty members mingled during the post-ceremony reception, many voiced their appreciation of finally getting to meet other members of their online community face-to-face. Students from around the country, and even around the globe, relished the opportunity to personally connect with those they’d known for so long online.
“You know, it’s so funny when you [study] online. You never imagine that there will come a time when you can meet these people in person. And this is the time,” said Ian Mpofu, who made the long journey from Johannesburg, South Africa, to be in attendance. “We’ve only known names and suddenly now we know the faces.”
The general air of goodwill was still on display after several hours of meetings, conversations, campus tours, and general merriment.
“This is brilliant,” concluded Mpofu, who earned an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Methods and Curriculum. “It’s connecting the world. Connecting the people. Growing societies.”