Commencement vs. Graduation

Words matter.  Select the right word and everything falls into place.  Select the wrong word and you have regrets for a lifetime. Journalists wait for politicians and government officials to utter a few errant syllables and generate the next day’s news. Anyone in leadership has fallen victim to this faux pas, at least once in a career. It’s inevitable.

Somewhere in my life, I learned the axiom:  Language Leads to Thinking; Thinking Leads to Belief; and Belief Leads to Action. Honestly, it has served me more effectively than most axioms I have acquired.

Using this as a premise, let us look at the ceremony on campus on May 18, 2022. Some call it “graduation” and others refer to it as “commencement.”  The former indicates completion, the latter a beginning. Certainly, “graduation” is worthy of recognition. Graduation indicates tasks accomplished, assignments submitted, exams passed, projects completed, and in some cases, instructors tolerated. No matter what the measures, graduation is indication of success, and success is to be celebrated.

“Commencement,” on the other hand, sends a very different message. Commencement is a beginning. It may be the beginning of a career pathway or it may be the beginning of a new learning adventure in a four-year institution. Either way, it is the start of something.

We graduate and commence simultaneously. Quoting Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the famous Roman philosophy and statesman, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” This was also immortalized in the Semisonic song, “Closing Time.” Perhaps it is the best way to look at our ceremony, as it is truly the end of something, and the beginning of another chapter in life.  

I doubt “Closing Time” will ever replace “Pomp and Circumstance,” but as we congratulate the Class of ’22, let’s remember they are living the experience, and it is not always easy. Amid the celebrations, the parties, and the good wishes, comes the uncertainty, the anxiety, the trepidation of making the right decisions, choosing the right pathway, and coping with the challenge of the next chapter in life.

Remember, words have meaning. Language leads to thinking, thinking leads to belief, and belief leads to action. Select your words wisely.

Best of fortune and success to the 50th class to graduate and commence from your Salem Community College.