Pondering a Bittersweet Graduation

Pondering a Bittersweet Graduation May 15, 2018
Graduation get-up, sans black glob gown.


As you may or may not have noticed, I was on a lengthy sabbatical over the past two weeks.


Well, to quote an eloquent British man, “I’m not dead yet!”


This past Saturday I graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with my Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a concentration in writing and a Spanish minor. I completed the Honors Great Books Program, I was inducted into Alpha Chi (national college honor society), Sigma Tau Delta (national English honor society), and Franciscan’s Baconian Society (“the highest academic award offered the BA graduate”); I graduated summa cum laude.


I want to tell you how joyous a day it was, how accomplished I feel.


And I do, and it was, certainly. There was the requisite final exam week where I felt like a zombie and was convinced I’d never finish, the frenzied packing and cleaning, the really fucking hard good-byes. There were fun selfies with friends and professors in that wretched black-blob-graduation-gown and odd Dracula-hairline hat.


My friend Cass is a babe and a bad-ass.


There was the gratitude I felt when my beloved friend and mentor, my previous Honors professor Dr. Georgedes, read my name aloud at commencement and then hugged me as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma case (sans diploma, so it did all feel a bit contrived).


And there was also the deep grief and bitterness that formed like a wad of sticky Japanese rice inside my esophagus.


Grief that I felt so isolated at commencement—surrounded by my giddy friends who were so excited that we were done, that we had finally made it—when all I could think of was the victim of sexual harassment (and subsequent administerial harassment for reporting it) who sat a few rows behind me.


Bitterness that I could not feel as deeply loyal and in-love with this institution as I felt when I sat, squished between my fellow freshmen, in one of those same deplorable tiny black folding-chairs at convocation four years ago.


You see, I deeply loved every moment of my time at this university.


I feel such gratitude to the incredible individuals who loved me, supported me, taught me, lived with me, held me as I healed from 21 years of my father’s abuse, and formed me into the person I am. And yet I sat there on Saturday, bereft of the satisfaction and peace I ought to have felt as I prepared to make that bizarre academic tassel salute.


Because in its place, in place of the love I have always held for Franciscan, my heart thudded around the fact that the administration here fired one of the most amazing professors was ever privileged to study under—Rebecca Bratten Weiss, who always received astonishingly high reviews from her students, who cared about each of us and devoted time and academic integrity to each of her classes.


And then, as I learned only a few months ago, the administration of this place I have loved so well engaged in victim-blaming behavior toward women and men who have undergone sexual assault and harassment.


So I am still processing my disillusionment. I still love this place. I love it deeply. And I believe it can and will improve. I do not expect perfection, for Franciscan is indeed a human institution. But I do expect honesty, acknowledgement of their error, and a clear indication that they are working to improve.


My response to the senior-gift donation request.


And, as I wrote on the back of the senior-gift-donation-pledge-card in my commencement “padfolio,” I cannot donate to this institution until I see that such reform has begun.

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