Saturday, May 28, 2011

Life after San Jose State

It was with decidedly mixed feelings that I sat on the stage Friday for my final SJSU graduation ceremony. For those who want to feel part of something big, I can think of few opportunities for a college professor that would surpass the graduation ceremony at a large public university like San Jose State.

(Technically, Friday was only the College of Business convocation ceremony. Most of the business faculty prefer our ceremony with 700 graduates in the basketball arena over Saturday’s all-SJSU ceremony with ten times as many students baking in the football stadium.)

As always, it was a happy day for the graduates, family and friends. Alumna Jenny Ming returned to keynote the commencement 33 years after she graduated. She gave an abbreviated version of her career in retail, including founding president of Old Navy and current CEO of Charlotte Russe. She said she enjoyed most all the opportunities she had for learning and growing in her 20s and 30s, including eight years at the local Mervyn’s.

Her admonishment for students to keep growing — much like industry speakers earlier this month in an SJSU business class — was music to my ears. I would both second that advice to my students but also — over the last year or two — have concluded that it is advice I should live by.

I had a small role and a seat on the dais as one of six faculty reading the names of graduates. I read names for one of the most popular majors — over 100 Management students — as well as for the smallest major, 4 students from our Entrepreneurship program. It’s always challenging to have a split-second to correctly pronounce an unfamiliar name. I was helped by three years of junior high spanish, plus the familiarity with Vietnamese names that every SJSU faculty member quickly masters. Still, after stumbling over a few difficult names I was always grateful to return to something simple like Garcia or Nguyen.

What made it more difficult were the presentations of certificates to the families of three business students killed during the past year. For these three young people, there will be no life after San Jose State.

One, Cindy Caliguiran, was in the Sbona Honors Program. She and accounting student Kyle Williams were the victims of a May 10 murder-suicide that marked the first murder of a student on campus in its 154 year history. (I had not previously heard about the third student, Jason Santiago, nor did Google shed much light on his life or death.)

Although I never met any of the students, I was choked up by the observance of their families’ tragic and irrevocable loss. While I had plenty of time to get over it, I don’t know how Bill Devincenzi and Howard Turetsky were able to resume reading names after introducing the Caliguiran and WIlliams families. (The sight of Williams’ young widow was particularly poignant).

Honors faculty: Rob Vitale,
Bill Devincenzi and Joel West
Finally, the event was bittersweet as my second and final appearance on the podium. I was surrounded by many of my best friends in the College of Business — i.e., those who cared enough to give up four hours of a Friday morning to honor and celebrate the graduation of our students. On the other hand, it was my last public appearance as a San Jose State professor and one of my last official acts — as I have already started transitioning to my new job.

Entrepreneurship Faculty: Joel West and Steve Bennet
As it turns out, a week ago I watched the commencement webcast for my new employer — about 50 students graduating from the college instead of 800. The smaller school will allow  much more opportunity for a personal touch, but perhaps without the group identity that a large university provides.

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