The end of May and the beginning of June is ‘graduation season’ in the USA. With the end of the school year, and the beginning of ‘summer break’, it is a long-standing tradition that celebrates the accomplishment of students, a felicitation of their teachers, and the support of family and friends. From kindergarteneners to post-graduates, beaming students march across stages across America in the finest of caps, gowns, tassels and other finery, as they are handed rolled-up diplomas that proclaim them as ‘graduates’.
The first ever graduation that I attended for myself, was for my doctorate degree. I had somehow managed to skip (or avoid!) every single one before then. In this case, having graduated in the December of the previous year, I was already working full-time. My thesis advisor called, and jokingly suggested that I would not receive that piece of sheepskin (is it really made of that?) if I did not show up for the ceremony. I am glad that I went, because it was a wonderful celebration indeed. I do not remember who the commencement speaker was, or what they said, but I will never forget the look of joy in my advisor’s eyes when I came off the stage with degree in hand.
He was always Dr. Ng to me. A young superstar professor from MIT, Presidential Rank Young Professor awardee, often chosen Professor of the Year by his students, and much more. In that moment, all I could say to him was, Thank you, Dr. Ng. But that day, he immediately corrected me and said – you can call me “Wing” from now on. You earned that right. He must have seen the reluctance in my eyes at this suggestion. So he quickly added – it’s okay. I insist.
For some reason, with that simple statement, I realized that four years of an academic-centric relationship (that began with him being my Master’s degree advisor), had now graduated to a heart-centric relationship. His attendance at the graduation parties thrown by my friends, an invitation to his home to have a special dinner with his family, and many other small and not-so-small touches were proof of that. He knew that I did not have any family (other than my younger cousin) present that week, so he turned from mere advisor to filling the role of proud-parent.
Now that I think about those events of twenty-five years ago, I ask myself. How do we know when our heart has graduated from kindergarten to the next grade? How do we discern when a relationship has transformed from a business- or academic- or task-centric to a heart-centric one? How do we measure the heart’s progress on the ‘education’ ladder, or can we? What would a high-school graduation in the heart’s curriculum entail for us? How about an undergraduate or graduate degree, or even a ‘doctorate’ in heart-centric education?
Perhaps all these questions are moot, for they all point to a single answer. Perhaps there are no discrete graduations in the heart, for the flow within it is more of a continuum. Perhaps the heart is beyond space and time, for it is on its journey of continuous involution.
In closing, I have to say thank you. To my parents who supported my coming here for graduate studies. To the community of Virginia Tech who held me gently. To my friends and teachers who believed in me despite all my flaws. And to the thesis advisor who took a gamble on a ‘fresh-off-of-the-boat’ graduate student from India after a five minute conversation, and provided and protected for him with all the resources at his disposal to make sure that he stayed the course.
P.S. Please join us Sunday, June 3rd at 9amET on twitter in #SpiritChat – we will explore the topic of “The Heart’s Graduation”. I look forward to your sharing of some graduation thoughts with the community. Thank you!
The heart’s graduation perhaps happens in the willingness to cross bridges…