Why you should go and flip your tassel . . .



Tomorrow evening my college will celebrate the graduation of over 1000 students. Unfortunately, if history repeats itself only one third of those students will attend the commencement ceremony. According to four of my students who have chosen not to go . . .

“It’s not a big deal.”

“I’ll celebrate with my friends on my own.”

“It’s boring.”

“Why should I?”

My responses? In order, “It is a big deal. Bring your friends. You’re right, some of it is boring, but the part with you in it won’t be. You should go, because you can.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008, almost 28% of Americans had earned a college degree. When I see that statistic, I think of the 72% who had not. You’ve done something special that not everyone can achieve. Even those with the heart and mind to do it, often can’t because of circumstances beyond their control: financial, medical, emotional. . .

You’ve earned the right to walk across that stage and shake the college president’s hand to the sound of thunderous applause. Trust me, it will sound thunderous—our venue is notoriously loud. 

Everyone who’s played a role in your journey has earned the right to watch you too. Your attendance is a thank you to all of them: the family member who took on a second job and/or a second mortgage to help pay tuition, the friend who offered a shoulder during the tough times, the teacher who encouraged you to keep trying. 

My colleagues and I will take our seats in metal folding chairs facing the stage and the first thing we will do is look through the program, some of us with pencils in hand, taking immeasurable pride in marking off “our students”, ready to clap and cheer when they cross the stage. We know what it took for you to get there. 

Attending a 90 minute commencement that ends with you flipping your tassel from the right side to the left of an odd, little hat may seem a silly ritual, but it symbolizes much, much more. Commencement celebrates your transformation from student to graduate and all the new opportunities and challenges you will face with your degree in hand. After all, the word “commence” means “to start, to begin”. Embrace your new beginning.

Top Five Ways to Suck Up to Your Professor, #1


Here it is…the number one way you can suck up to your professor…


If you come into the classroom with the attitude “I can’t,” I can guarantee “you won’t.” Your attitude has built a brick wall around your brain. I’ve banged up against student brick walls enough to know once you’ve built them there’s not a thing I can say or do that will tear them down– you have to do that yourself.

“I hate this.” “This is too hard.” “Is there math in this, I’m no good at math.” “I won’t ever be able to figure this out.” Each statement places another brick.

Even the statements “I’ll try,” or “I’ll do my best,” can be self-defeating; you’re accepting failure as an option before you’ve even begun. As long as you did your best, well then failing is okay, you tried, right?

No. Wrong. I sure don’t want my doctor coming to me and telling me she tried, I want her to do. And I don’t want the engineer who designed the bridge that I cross over every day to tell me he did his best, I want a bridge I can trust. Even Gladys, the super sweet woman at the McDonald’s where I get an occasional coffee doesn’t tell me to try and have a nice day, she tells me to have one and she doesn’t try to hand me my coffee either, she does it. Even Yoda knows this, “No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Choose your attitude: “I will succeed,” then build an incremental plan with plenty of wins a long the way. For example, “I’m going to figure XYZ out and I’m not going to give up until I do. If I have to ask my teacher to explain it to me a dozen different ways, I will. If I have to put in ten extra hours a week practicing, I will. If I have to get extra help from a tutor, I will. I will get the job done, because I can!” Now that’s the attitude that makes your professor swoon 🙂

Photo credit © Marek Uliasz

Top Five Ways to Suck Up to Your Professor, #2


Do I have to ask you to turn off your cell phone? Actually, I do. Two weeks ago I gave an exam and one of my students pulled out her cell phone and started texting. !?!?! When I asked her, “What are you doing?” She said, “Texting. Don’t worry, it’s not about the test.” !?!?! When I said, “You can’t use your phone for any reason while a test is going on.” She said, “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to.” Which brings me to #2 on the list of the Top Five Ways to Suck Up to Your Professor…


It starts with turning your cell phones OFF during class. I turn mine off and my life is just as important as yours. But respect includes the little things too, that when added up, make our time together much more “pleasant.”

…little things like, addressing your professor in the manner s/he prefers. Don’t know? Find out. BTW “Teach” is a personal pet peeve for most of us. By midterm I know the names of all 120+ of my students, you can extend the same courtesy and know the names of all 5+ of your professors. By midterm 🙂

…little things like, not sleeping at your desk– that’s what coffee’s for, not carrying on extensive side conversations while your professor’s speaking, not eating your big mac and fries during class

…also, embarrassing your professor in the classroom, probably not a good idea. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am always up for a challenge and a clash of ideas with a logical argument shows me you’re thinking for yourself. However, I have colleagues who prefer confrontation to occur without an audience and I know if I need to talk to a student about anything even slightlypersonal, it’s a private conversation. So my advice, if you disagree with your professor, make use of those office hours. Unless you’ve been invited by your professor to debate in the classroom. (Now I’m just asking for it aren’t I?)

Photo credit © Svlumagraphica