There I was, a U.Va. graduate, in the heart of the Hokie Nation, watching my son receive his undergraduate degree in construction engineering from Virginia Tech. Putting aside all of the jokes we U.Va. grads make about Hokies being farmers (Tech, after all, is Virginia’s land grant “aggie” school), I was darn proud of Patrick.
It was an unseasonably warm day for the Dec. 20 commencement ceremony, held inside Cassell Coliseum. As we stood around outside afterwards enjoying the sun and taking pictures, a number of thoughts went through my head.
Mostly I thought about how far Pat has come in the last 10 years. Back in 2003, when he bowed out after a year and a half at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he was bitter about school and directionless. He said going to college was a waste of time, and he would never go back. As he drifted, I worried about his prospects. I fretted, like any father would, about where he would end up.
Working in construction, though, showed him the value of hard work and that a degree might be necessary to get ahead. He started taking classes part-time at Northern Virginia Community College; then he transferred to Tech full-time about two years ago. Now, at the age of 30, he has his degree.
But he didn’t just get a degree. He approached school with a purpose and discipline that was missing the first time around. And it paid off. He graduated magna cum laude and received an academic award that assured him a spot in Tech’s nationally ranked graduate engineering program. He’s already on track to get his master’s degree at the end of next year.
One of the graduation speakers reminded us that commencement means beginning. I guess like most people, I have always thought of the commencement ceremony as a capstone, a time for congratulations and attaboys. How appropriate, I thought, to also view it as the start of something new and exciting—so many doors are now open to Pat that before were closed or only slightly ajar.
Another commencement speaker urged the audience to not just accept change, but to embrace and influence it. “Invent the future,” he said, which is Virginia Tech’s slogan. Everywhere you turned, embroidered on the gown of every graduate, was the school’s Latin motto, Ut Prosim: “That I may serve.” Combine inventing the future with serving others, and you have a pretty good action plan for life.
So I couldn’t be more impressed with this latest engineering grad from Tech. May he serve with distinction!