Dear Graduates: Skills are Skills are Skills

On January 30 and 31, 2014, VIU celebrated the graduation of nearly 500 degree, diploma, and certificate students.  Two convocation ceremonies were held at the Port Theatre, with all the time-honored traditions and more recent additions, passion and enthusiasm that have become synonymous with VIU.  We honored retired VIU employees with carrying the mace, a centuries-old tradition in which heavy, metal weaponry is paraded in symbolic protection of the scholars in attendance.  We cheered at students as they smiled, waved, dancing, back-flipped, and took selfies during one of the most important days of their lives.

I watched the ceremonies as I always do: tucked away in the stage-left wings, just behind the podium where the Master of Ceremonies presides over the event. Hundreds of students walk past me on the stage, their newly-minted credentials in their hands, the tassels swinging from their mortarboards.  It’s the best part of my day. These ceremonies are the best part of my job.

I always want to pull these new graduates aside, whisper my most heartfelt congratulations, ask them what they learned and how they’re going to apply it to their lives.  Sometimes I do get a chance to talk to the students before the ceremony as we’re getting ready.  They’re working already, or looking for work; some are going back to school, or some are just looking forward to not being at school.  Some students have their lives all planned out; some are just going to roll with it.

I was one of those, a student who rolled with it.  When I received my newly-minted Bachelor of Arts degree from Malaspina University-College in 2005, I had just started what would be a two-year stint in retail.  I didn’t plan to work in customer service; I was supposed to take my major in English, wave it in front of publishing companies and bookstores and wait for the job offers to fly in.  Well – it didn’t exactly work like that.  I worked at a clothing store until I had simply had enough, and then the universe gave me a heck of break and here I am, back at Malaspina University-College, organizing the ceremonies for our graduating students.  As it turns out, it’s awfully close to my dream job.

For all of those graduating students who have aspirations of getting the management-level jobs, the high-impact jobs, the dream jobs, I say go for it, and good for you. But don’t discount the value of the education that you’re going to get working at the mall.  Customer service means everything these days, if you’re selling something or not.  The skills that I learned in retail – work ethic, teamwork, honesty, organization, even getting to my shift on time – can be applied to any job or career. I have done just that and continue to build on these skills during my time here at VIU.  At the end of what I hope will be a long career at VIU, I would like to be able to look back and say that I had continued to learn and apply new skills to an ever-changing world, that, for some people, I had made a difference, even for one day, and that I was able to pass along my own advice and skills to others.  And I would also like to be deemed worthy to carry the mace at convocation that year.

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