The JOY of it all Tears are filling my eyes.
I can feel the room full of people getting ready to move on. It is a big room, actually a hockey rink most of the time, a hockey rink where in an earlier time I watched Kamen play on community and school teams from age 6 to 17. And it is where I have watched Rensselaer play for the last dozen years. But today it is so different - no ups and downs, no mistakes, no cheering when RPI scores and being disappointed when the other school accomplishes the exact same feat. No wondering about the outcome. No winning and losing.
Everybody is a winner today. There are only ups, and that is why the tears are flowing down my face.
There are not many occasions where the joy is so pure. Even weddings have that sense of the loss of what was. And even on this day of so much joy there is probably some sorrow...the passing of an era in a family, in a person's life...but the sorrow is hard to find, hard to feel, hard to hear because the JOY is so loud.
There are 758 people waiting to walk across the stage to receive their college degrees. Many times that number are sitting in the stands with smiles on their faces and pride in their hearts and hopes about the future in their thoughts. As one of the trustees of the Sage Colleges, I march down the aisle and take a seat on the stage. This is my fifth year of this graduation ceremony, this community joy. It brings tears every year, starting with seeing the grads line up outside, then walk in with such pure joy - a joy I have experienced nowhere else.
I have had the privilege of witnessing the birth of a child, and nothing is so precious and filled with such awe. But a birth is a private, intimate revelation, rarely shared with more than a few. It is not, at least in our culture, a public event.
This is a different experience. The sheer volume. The number of people who are experiencing joy all at the same time. Everyone in the Fieldhouse is happy. Thousands of happy people in one place, being joyous about life and about the achievements of people.
The cheers are fun to hear. As people walk across the stage, family members or friends in the audience call out their names. There is yelling and applause - just for them. How many times in life do people walk across a public stage and have other applaud them? For most, not too many times. For some, it is the first and possibly the only time it will happen.
And the grads ...they can't stop smiling. Some have writing on their caps. Others are wearing very special outfits, dressed up for their big day...maybe the biggest day of accomplishment in their lives so far. And for some of the families, they are seeing the first person in the family history achieve a college degree, or a masters or a doctorate.
The air is alive with joy. I feel the joy in all of my being and I am overwhelmed with a feeling of life in one of its finer moments. Seven hundred and fifty eight new graduates celebrating themselves, with their loved ones there as witnesses to the moment.
In this sacred space, all I can do is let the tears flow and know how blessed I am to experience such a moment and to share it with thousands of people in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Hockey Fieldhouse in Troy, New York. And in that moment, I realize we are not alone in our joy. Graduations like this are happening all over the country and the world. It is one of the gifts we give ourselves as human beings.