BY LUCIA NARDO
The Central Hall at Australian Catholic University’s Melbourne Campus (St Patrick’s), is a sea of black waves as the academic robes of excited graduands billow, never succeeding in cloaking their nervous energy.
Flashes of colour representing their faculty flicker with each movement. The graduands sit to the right of the hall, tassels on academic caps swing as heads twist to take in the atmosphere of the event. I sit on the left side with the guests — parents and friends. This side of the aisle oozes pride.
We start with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land, followed by a prayer. God of wisdom it begins and calls the graduands to a commitment to serving the common good. In the opening address, they are encouraged to continue their personal development and to find a mentor for that journey; to prepare themselves to make a difference in the world.
The long list of names in the program is daunting and makes me wonder how long it will take to get through them all.
How long? A question I ask about many things, usually to do with my own comfort. How long? Looking at the collective, I begin to wonder how long those about to graduate have worked to reach this day. The effort in obtaining a degree can not be underestimated. And not just from an academic perspective.
For some, this degree will be the first achieved in their family. For some, Australia has been a temporary home for the duration of their studies. For others, it has become home after a range of difficulties and traumas endured in circumstances which many of us can not begin to imagine.
Personal sacrifices have been made. This is understood by all present and a palpable atmosphere of thanksgiving blankets the hall as the formalities commence.
One by one, the graduands are called onto the stage. They doff their caps to the Chancellor, collect their certificates, and leave the stage now as graduates in their chosen field. It is a short walk to the start of new lifelong enterprises.
Hands aloft with cameras and phones, parents and friends capture the moment. Pockets of raucous celebration erupt from time to time. One such occurrence captures me; an African family seated in a nearby row, whose pride in one recipient is wholly uncontained. Their joy is infectious. This is a celebration of talent and tenacity. Of God’s gifts, of charisms; of graces accepted and acted upon.
Name after name is read and soon the event draws to a close. A graduate comes to the stage to give the vote of thanks. She speaks of her experience at ACU, particularly the support she had found in her fellow students and her faculty, following a road trauma early in her academic life.
She talks with passion about never giving up, about the value of learning and, in her case relearning, given the devastation of her injuries. The attendees’ sustained applause underscores her message.
Surprisingly, I find this graduation ceremony more emotional than I expected. Perhaps I am nostalgic for my own early days of study.
I am forced to admit that in the proceedings there has been an element of confrontation. Have I answered fully God’s call on my gifts? I muse on the chosen scripture reading for the celebration and ask myself if I have filled my mind “…with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)
The program ends with a blessing that the graduates be enabled to contribute to the wellbeing of those entrusted to their care. As the hall empties, I leave praying that the recipients of the day’s awards will always carry the eagerness, commitment and hope that they embrace in this moment.
I have come some way to answering my impatient question: How long? Life long. I pray that as a continuous learner in life, I too will remember my role in developing and contributing to the common good; on the call that asks me to be of loving service to others. Simply that.
Lucia Nardo is a Melbourne-based writer who teaches Professional Writing and Editing at Victoria University.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.