What's the point of commencement? One president's take.

Ceremony reminds faculty and staff what they're preparing students for

Commencement serves a larger purpose than a photo-op for students and their parents, writes Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel Porterfield. 

In a piece for the Washington Post's "Grade Point," Porterfield reflects on how graduation weekend reminds educators that a world exists beyond campus and of their responsibilities to prepare students for that world.

"College feels timeless because the students are always young, the traditions are always old, and ideas are the coin of the realm," he writes. "As a result, during the intensity of academic life, it's easy to forget that the students are not only and always students. Commencement reminds us that one's larger purposes in life, are not, in fact, to be taught by us, but rather to love and lead, teach and serve, chase a dream, find a calling, make a family, know oneself." 

University says 'no' to commencement speakers

Porterfield recounts the struggles three graduating students overcame to arrive at commencement. One student lost her father during freshman year, but she persevered to achieve success in such diverse areas as rowing, painting, and biochemistry.

Another student almost transferred so he could better support his single mom, but stayed at Franklin & Marshall, recruited more students of color into his fraternity, encouraged his fraternity brothers to be good campus citizens, and ultimately became president of the fraternity.

A third student conquered her introverted nature to learn multiple languages, make friends with students from other religions, study abroad in two countries, and win a Fulbright fellowship.

Graduation represents the finality of school and provides a change to reflect on how much students like these have grown, according to Porterfield.

"This recurring truth renews us as educators," he writes (Porterfield, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 5/8). 


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