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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Graduation stirs emotions

May 7, 2008

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Even though I've been a law school teacher for nearly three decades, I still feel a strange mixture of emotions at this time of year. Law classes ended last Friday and our students are now busily taking their final exams. For 150 or so, these are the last law school examinations they will take because they will graduate on May 18, less than two weeks from now. It is that looming graduation that causes my mixed emotions.

Law school is a bit different from undergraduate education. By and large, law schools are small; KU has only about 500 students in all three years. Our faculty to student ratio is also small, less than 15 to one. Our educational program is as much a professional apprenticeship as a classroom experience. As a result, teachers get to know their students well. I find that in every class there will be some students whom I'll get to know very well.

It's been my habit over the years to take students to lunch on Fridays for Mexican food. Most Fridays there'll be six or seven students, sometimes as many as 10. Some of these are regulars. Whether they come for the free lunch or the company, I don't want to know. These regulars are the ones I've gotten to know best.

In this graduating class, there are quite a few students whom I know quite well. Often, students don't realize that their teachers have grown attached to them. As one gets older and less in touch with student lifestyles, as students become less one's contemporaries and more like one's children or grandchildren, it's often hard for students to understand that their teachers really do care about them both as students and as people. But, of course, we do. But just as children grow up and leave home, students learn what we have to teach them and graduate. And that's what all their work - and ours - is about.

So, when graduation inevitably comes each year I feel a mixture of emotions. I'm always proud to see my students finish successfully, ready to leave the university and begin their professional lives. I'm pleased for them that all the years of hard work have finally paid off. Soon, they'll be lawyers doing what I and my colleagues have taught them to do. But I'm also always sad because I know that no matter how much we tell each other that we'll keep in touch, their lives are no longer centered at the law school and at KU and mine is, and I know that I'll lose touch with most.

That's the problem of being a teacher; every year we lose many of our students. And, thus, summer always starts with a mixture of pride and of sadness. But that's the nature of teaching. If we succeed in our jobs, then, eventually, we lose our students. But, the good news is, in just a few months, there will be a whole new class of beginning law students wandering around the law school just waiting for us to begin their education. And so the cycle continues.

- Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the KU School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

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