Old Main at sunset

A Graduation Message

By Penny Byrne

First printed in The Cache Citizen. June 4, 1988

Photo by Kate Rouse DuHadway, for Aggie BluePrint, 2012

Penny Byrne has been a professor with USU’s Department of Journalism and Communications for over 28 years. She is retiring this year with her husband, Dean Byrne, who also taught as a faculty member in the same department. During her tenure at Utah State, Penny Byrne wrote editorials for The Cache Citizen, which was USU’s student magazine at that time. This is one of her editorials about graduation and new beginnings – one that is appropriate as Aggie BluePrint revives the tradition of magazine journalism at USU in a new, online format.

Something in the human spirit demands ceremony. Solemn celebrations seem to touch our depths, bringing out emotions common to us all.

Graduation–commencement. These two words mean different things, and yet we use them to refer to the same rite of passage. To graduate means to finish something, to end it. To commence means to begin something new.

Both are appropriate for what we celebrate when we gather together to recognize students who have finished one chapter in their lives–and who will now be moving on to new challenges and trials.

It also seems particularly appropriate that most commencement ceremonies are held in spring. New life bursting all around us seems in keeping with the newness of our graduates, full of promise and energy.

I’ve heard people say that if you’ve been to one graduation, you’ve seen ‘em all. That’s true–incredibly, wonderfully, beautifully true. Ceremonies should be shared experiences, repeated trips to similar human territories. The world changes, swirling around us in chaotic fashion. Rituals, rites and ceremonies are occasional rocks on which we land, safe, solid, familiar.

When we attend a commencement ceremony, it is not new. It is a memory revisited, a combination of all our graduation/commencements: our high school’s, our college’s– our son’s, our daughter’s– and maybe, somehow, our parent’s or grandparent’s endings and beginnings.  The caps and gowns are borrowed from centuries past. The music is a century old. Even the exhortations to go forth and change the world are hardly new.

But the graduates! They are new, always new. They joke and poke fun at the ritual; hear them say they’d never be here except that Mom or Dad would kill ‘em if they didn’t do this silly thing. Hear that one mumble about this nonsense that ruins a fine spring day. Yet watch them straighten one another’s starched collar; see them sneak a peek at their reflections in the window glass. They know this a chapter closed–a new book opened, full of blank pages. They are proud and frightened.

We know, because that’s how it was–and how it always will be. On these special, solemn, joyous occasions of human ceremony, you can go home again.


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