Chair's Greeting: "Graduation"

Danilyn at home

by Danilyn Rutherford, Professor and Chair

Graduation. Somehow this doesn’t seem like the right word for what we are up to today. Okay, so the department ceremony may at moments seem to drag on. We try to keep the presentations brief, but there are lots of you to honor. After all, you are the best students in the universe; you’ve given us lots to celebrate, and we want to do it right. But in retrospect, it will be over in the blink of an eye. Receive the diploma, turn the tassel: that’s all it takes to be launched. It will also seem like your years here have flashed by in an instant. Only yesterday, you were sitting in a lecture hall taking Anth 1, 2, or 3. Today, you are saying goodbye. There’s nothing gradual about graduating from college. You will remember it as swift and sudden. Bad news. If you are anything like me, the rest of your life will feel the same way.

Then again, maybe there is something gradual about this whole process. This whole process has been a process: gradually, and often imperceptibly, you have changed. You have learned to think like an anthropologist. To look for patterns in bones, pot sherds, and people’s behavior. To explore where these patterns come from, what they do, and how they get passed on. To put yourself in other people’s shoes. To contextualize. To take nothing for granted, including your most cherished assumptions about the world. And that’s not all. While you were here you were gradually changing the department. You left a little mark every time you spoke up in class, every time you wrote passionately in a paper, every time you held a Halloween party on our ghoulish fourth floor. You were shaping our environment when you helped out in the labs, at the lime works, or in the office, as writing assistants, peer tutors, or simply as friends. 

And you were shaping those of us who had the privilege of teaching you. You challenged us. You kept us honest. You insisted that we be clear. You asked us to be engaged and ethical. You asked us to explain why what we were telling you should matter to you – and to the world. I’m being totally honest. I feel this keenly. If I hadn’t known you, I would not teach or write the way I do. 

Graduation is a gradual process. This isn’t the end of your relationship to the department. Rather, you are moving into a new phase. Instead of using what you have learned in an exam or a paper, you will be using it in life: as a teacher or activist, a doctor or lawyer, a coroner, contract archaeologist, or cook, a social worker, a therapist, a traveler, a poet, a politician, a parent, or partner, or any of the other many thousands of things you will become. And one day you’ll realize you’re no longer our students. Instead, you’ll be alumni, that most precious of campus creatures. Instead of ordering you around, we’ll be working hard to lure you back. 

And so it goes. We hope that some of you – well, all of you – will stay in touch over the years. That you’ll send us a check if you win the lottery – or even if you don’t. That you’ll be in touch if you have some advice for the department or simply want to find out what anthropologists are up to these days. Graduation: it’s over in an instant, but it lasts a lifetime. Thanks for majoring in anthropology, and thanks for your part in making our department the wonderful place it is today.

Professor Rutherford will be stepping down as Chair after 5 years of service.