September 13, 2008

Congratulations on Your Graduation!

By Boyle, Cynthia J

To the Editor: At a time when schools and colleges of pharmacy are expanding enrollments and when new schools are proliferating, the role of the faculty member has never been more important to pharmacy education. There is a common perception that a career in academia requires sacrifice and the benefits of such a career are not generally articulated.My graduation account is intended to sharewhat I believe to be the essential benefit, and even joy, of being a faculty member. Each faculty member has experienced it. I amtalking about the academic equivalent of the "empty nest syndrome." By that I mean the emptiness felt at the end of the convocation and graduation ceremonies. This year's graduation was such a day for me in Baltimore. Wehad wisely moved the Graduation Banquet hosted by the Alumni Association to 2 days prior to our Friday ceremonies. Thursday was a one-day break from the emotions and congratulations personally delivered to many soon-to-be graduates and their families. It was a day to take care of the other 3 classes of students, gather plaques and awards, re-confirm lunch reservations between convocation and graduation, and find all the components to the academic regalia that were carefully hung in the closet a year before.

Convocation/Graduation Day dawned unusually rainy, dark, and cool for Maryland. It was worth carpooling to save gasoline and to anticipate the events with a colleague. At least a warm breakfast and coffee awaited in the faculty assembly room. Even an hour before the 10:00 AM start time, many graduates and their families were finding their seats early to have the best vantage points for taking photos in the auditorium. Graduates were carefully lined up, but faculty members took longer to get to their appropriate places in the procession. Excited voices hushed as the orchestral arrangement to Pomp and Circumstance was cued. Some of us later admitted to goose bumps.

The School's Convocation is that personal ceremony just for pharmacy graduates and their families, along with faculty members, staff members, and clinical faculty preceptors who are able to adjust their work schedules to attend. There was extra excitement because this was the first Convocation for our new Dean. Our Convocation/ Graduation Day was marked by inspiring speeches, outstanding leader awards, a thoughtful keynote address, students being hooded one-by-one to the cheers of their families, a teacher- of-the-year award selected by the graduating class, a commissioned work of art presented by the Class of 2008, and many photos taken to capture the moments for years to come.

As I scanned the faces of the graduates, I remembered many specific circumstances. As a faculty member, I worked closely with these students throughout their 4 professional years, as had many of my colleagues. We had written reference letters for those going on to residencies and fellowships. We had nominated deserving students for many academic awards; and we had advised, guided, coached, and encouraged a variety of students through their curricular and extracurricular education. Most importantly, we had spent the time on the few who needed the extra help; who had encountered serious family problems and illness; and who had not had the confidence to even ask for help. These, too, were our successes.

The afternoon campus-wide graduation is the one time annually that students and faculty from all health professions schools and law share an event. None of us expected Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, to not only offer thoughtful remarks on a balanced life but also to sing us his satire on the classic "My Way" adapted for students in academia to "Their Way." Although the colors of their academic regalia distinguished the different disciplines the graduates would be entering, we all hoped they would find a way to work together to solve health care problems and promote sound public policy.

As was my custom, I found the proper moment to exit the arena and walk by myself the several blocks back to the pharmacy building. I was thankful for my heavy robe and hood to protect me from the brisk wind. I was spent, having nothing left to emote, and left with my mixed feelings about the bittersweet occasion of graduation. So much talent. So much promise. So much hope for the future. But nothing would be the same. I was so happy for our graduates, but I missed them already.

Just when I felt a tear (the first of the day) start to roll down my cheek, I walked past an individual on the street who said, "Congratulations on your graduation." Baltimore is not known for friendly, outgoing behavior between strangers who pass on the street..but this stranger had congratulated me. And then it happened again. And again. By then I was smiling as I realized what the words meant. Although I was not a current graduate, as a faculty member I did deserve congratulations on that day-my graduation. I had helped to develop pharmacy practitioners to take their places in the profession. I had worked withmyfellow faculty members to prepare those amazing graduates for a future we cannot yet fully define. Perhaps one of the best faculty benefits of all is that we get to experience our graduation each year.

It took me a couple of days to adjust to our school without the Class of 2008. Intellectually, I knew this was part of the education process, but as we teach students to become pharmacists and to care for patients, we find ourselves caring for them. Perhaps the greatest consolation is that, as they graduate, our students become our colleagues, and we will see them in the future at professional meetings and alumni events, as well as at work in our communities.

Cynthia J. Boyle, PharmD

School of Pharmacy

University of Maryland

Copyright American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy 2008

(c) 2008 American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.