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Graduation Season is Here

Monday, May 21, 2018

There is something quite magical about this time of year. The academic regalia, the congratulatory hugs, the encouraging speeches and the familiar chords of “Pomp and Circumstance” all signal a time of transition and new beginnings.

We at the Foundation have been busy attending several year-end events, such as the Johnson Scholars celebrations at the various high schools, the dinner for the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program and the Scholars and Donors Recognition Breakfast at Northern Arizona University. This month, we will attend the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children mass graduation event and the graduation ceremony for Cohort 11 of the Gonzaga MBA-AIE Program (pictured). 

For one university in particular, this year’s graduation was a milestone. During our visit to Florida Polytechnic University in March, we learned that the graduating Class of 2018 is the first consisting of students who spent all four years at the institution (the university opened in 2014). Florida Poly’s history-making event took place on May 4.

Seeing the students that we’ve touched through our grantmaking walk across the graduation stage is an important and happy moment for us. We celebrate along with students and their families, friends, educators and mentors. We can see the hard work of our nonprofit partners in a tangible way, and we are reminded how scholarships have the power to set students on a path toward a brighter, more prosperous future.

At the same time we know that graduation is also a time of anxiety for some seniors. We know that many high school graduates, particularly first-generation students, are heading to college without support systems in place. Many will arrive on campus only to struggle with financial or other issues. While an increasing number of colleges and universities are offering resources to help students in need, not all students who need them are taking advantage of them.

At the college level, many college graduates will attend their graduation ceremonies during the next several weeks without knowing what their next step will be. Countless numbers of grads are still looking for jobs in their chosen careers or applying to graduate schools. For students with disabilities, the job outlook is improving but still not where it needs to be. Student loan debt continues be a concern for some.

These issues are not new, of course. It quickly becomes apparent that no amount of money or inspirational commencement speeches can solve every problem. But just as the speechwriters are challenging the graduates to go out and make a difference in the world, this season is a challenge to us to stay the course with our work, remain reflective and keep getting better at what we do.

We are among a group of education funders in Florida who are looking into developing innovative scholarships that will help disadvantaged students remain in college once they get there. We are also sharing what we have learned about scholarship support for students with disabilities, as we will have a chance to do this summer at this year’s Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Conference. In addition, we continue to look for opportunities for meaningful investment in Indian Country and elsewhere.

So as the graduation speakers will no doubt tell the seniors, enjoy this time and all that comes with it. But more importantly, let us be ready to start the journey anew tomorrow.