Our little community college in the Bronx held its commencement ceremony in unusually perfect weather yesterday. We may not have the money and prestige of Columbia or NYU, but our commencement ceremonial conferring those associate degrees had every bit as much academic tradition and pageantry complete with hierarchies of caps and gowns and even ceremonial maces. What our commencement ceremonies always have that Columbia's and NYU's have less frequently are large family turnouts for sons and daughters who are the first in their families to go to college, always a moving sight for me. Our class valedictorian was a young man from Ghana who arrived in the USA at age 19 speaking very little English. When he started at Bronx Community College, he had to take all remedial courses. Now, he's on his way to start work on a degree in biochemistry, and eventually to medical school. He thanked numerous professors by name, and his family who are all still in Ghana.
Our art department sends about a dozen newly minted graduates to universities and art schools this year, all of them very talented and showing great promise. All of them coming from hardship backgrounds as well. I felt like such a proud parent yesterday.
President Obama is right. Community colleges are a national treasure. I have the very good fortune to be working in one of the better ones serving one of the poorest counties in the USA. As tuition skyrockets, even at state schools, and financial aid of all kinds diminishes, community colleges become the last affordable access to higher education for growing segments of the population (including lots of military vets, many of whom are also immigrants). There are times when I think community college is all that stands between us and a return to the old 19th century role of colleges and universities to enforce established social and economic hierarchy.
Accompanying all of those students as they marched up to get their diplomas yesterday was the tune that Edward Elgar originally wrote for Queen Victoria. Most of us Yanks aren't aware that this tune comes with words added at the suggestion of King Edward VII, a hymn of praise to British imperialism (many of our students at Bronx Community College came out of Commonwealth educations). Of course, our little college couldn't afford an orchestra to play it, so a recording blared it at a deafening volume as the students marched in.
So, here is an Albert Hall full of flag waving Brits singing "Land of Hope and Glory" in honor of our graduating students. Congratulations to them all, and best wishes for their future!
And if you care to sing along ...
Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.