Graduating in the United States
Welcome back! The past three weeks have been pure craziness (in a good way), and a lot has happened during that time: I completed my internship with CBS Studios International, had friends and family from Germany in town to visit, and I also graduated. I am glad things are slowly getting back to normal and that I could close some important chapters in my life while new ones are about to start.
Looking back, it feels super crazy how fast the time in school actually flew by. I still remember the first day when I started my educational journey at Community College, before I finally got to transfer to Cal State Fullerton to complete my Bachelor’s degree. This school has given me so much amazing opportunities to make new friendships, meet great professors, and get involved (as I mentioned in more detail in one of my previous articles). I am actually kind of sad that this period of my life is over now. Not only because I think so highly of this university, but also because I lost some sense of security. By going to school, my life had a particular structure and stability. Now, I am totally on my own, trying to find a job that matches my skills and interests and that also pays enough to be able to sustain a life here in Orange County. Therefore, I still like to reminisce about my last semester and graduation day.
I can’t really compare graduation in the United States with graduation in Germany since I never finished university in Europe. So when the big day arrived two weeks ago, I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. I was just super excited to be walking the stage to receive my certificate together with some of my best friends. With my decorated cap, gown, two sashes, one cord and a tassel in tow, I gathered my family and friends from Europe and headed to school two hours before the start of the actual ceremony to make sure we get a parking spot. Even though we left way ahead of time, traffic around the university was crazy. But at least we got a parking spot close to the stadium where the ceremony was being held. I told my parents and friends where the audience seating was, while I walked over to where the graduates had to meet. Little did I know at that time that the ceremony of the Communications department, which I was being part of, would receive press coverage and start a social media debate because of one particular commencement speaker. But I will come back to that a little later.
Once every one of the graduates had gathered at the assembly point, the ceremony promptly started at 9:45 am. The first to walk into the stadium were the department chairs and speakers, followed by the concentration commencement leaders, who were carrying signs for each of the five communications concentrations (advertising, photo communications, entertainment and tourism, journalism, and public relations). Then came the Master’s degree recipients, followed by the many hundreds of Bachelor’s degree graduates, myself included. If you asked me to describe the feeling while walking in the stadium to ceremonial music while the audience was cheering, I would say, “It was pretty cool!”
Once all of us found a seat and the presentation of the national anthem was completed (which really gave me the chills because it just felt so amazing), the department chairs and speakers took to the stage. That was when the ceremony took a short detour to the worse. One of the commencement representatives was an award-winning anchor and journalist of Latino heritage. With more than 40 percent of journalism graduates coming from a Hispanic background, the university thought it to be a great contribution to present her as one of the inspirational and motivational speakers. Unfortunately, not everybody felt that way. It all started out well, until the speaker began to focus solemnly on the Latino graduates by stating things such as, “Hispanics are the future.” That did not sit well with everybody. It got way worse when she started to mention politics, a topic, in my opinion, you definitely shouldn’t bring up during a commencement speech. Members of the audience started to boo at her and yell, “Get off the stage,” while others flipped the bird at her. I started to feel really uncomfortable in my seat. Of course I do have my personal opinion about this matter, which I won’t state here, since everybody is allowed to agree or disagree. All I am going to say is that I don’t think it was a smart move for a speaker to bring certain things up when you have people from many different background and political opinions at an official university ceremony. The incident received press coverage and sparked a debate about racism, something that clearly was not intended by anyone on this special day.
Fortunately enough though, the following speakers were able to turn the mood around, and the ceremony proceeded without any further negative incidents. After the presenters concluded their speeches, the students were asked to assemble in line to go onto the stage and receive their certificate. It was one of the best moments I have ever experienced when the department chair called out my name through the speaker and my family and friends cheered while I was walking down the stage. And with that, that chapter of my life is closed. At least for now…
Image: ©Anne-Kathrin Schulte
Anne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.