When my daughter entered college, she and all the incoming freshmen participated in a convocation ceremony. The ceremony was brief but meaningful. It was impressive so simple that it left me wondering why we don’t do something of that nature for all of our learners experiencing a significant transition between schools.
To begin, the students gathered in the auditorium to receive early directions and to officially sign their names in the book of the university’s students. From the auditorium, they followed in procession: A lone bag pipe player lead the way, followed by the university’s staff – all present and dressed in their graduation garb – and then the incoming Freshman, dressed in business casual attire. They proceeded on a path that led through a gate, signifying their entrance into the university. The gate in this case is a special one and students pass through it only twice – once to enter and once to graduate – for their undergraduate experience. Parents stood on the lawn to greet them as they passed through the gate and then joined the procession last, following them into the amphitheater.
In the amphitheater, they were greeted by the university president, who in 10 brief minutes, welcomed them to the university and then offered them the three most important things they would need to know to be successful students there: 1) get to know your instructors for they are your friends and your direct link to learning and success; 2) get involved – make friends, engage in social activities, and leave this place better than you found it for this is your pathway to building a well-rounded life; and 3) stay connected to your parents for they are your roots, your support line, and quite possibly your link to additional resources (a.k.a. cash).
At the conclusion of her talk, the academic dean stood and briefly outlined their commitment to excellence in both curricular content and instructional process. As he concluded his talk, he invited the staff to stand and in unison pledge their commitment to support of the success of the incoming class of Freshmen throughout their college years. The moment was energizing and exciting. It two brief talks, the university staff created an identity for their student body and offered a public promise of their support to make that ideal a reality.
The senior class president entered the stage and reinforced the president’s points that being connected to their instructors, peers, and parents was in fact critical to their success. Like the president before her, she also shared data from surveys of past and present students to prove that her points were indeed significant and should not be disregarded. Then she invited the incoming freshman to stand and follow her lead in offering a pledge to be full participants and learners while on their campus.
Finally, a parent from the ranks stood, offered a few words of wisdom regarding how to stay involved with a student experiencing college life, and then invited the parents to stand and follow her lead in offering a pledge to be supportive parents to their students.
In less than 30 minutes, everyone had acknowledged his or her role in making the upcoming learning experience a successful one. An identity had been built: it meant something to be a student at that university. Staff and students were expected to take their roles seriously and success would be inevitable. Commitments had been made. Publically.
What if an induction like that happened in our K-12 schools? What if incoming students heard their staff give a collective statement of commitment to their success? What if they didn’t have to single-handedly figure out what it took to be successful there because someone outright told them and made it simple enough to remember? What if students stood in a formal ceremony and pledged to participate fully in their learning? There is something visceral about standing in such a formal space and offering that promise. It leaves an impression. It creates an identity worthy of behaving one’s way into living. It just might be worth the effort.