Baker University President Pat Long hopes she can make it through her keynote address Sunday in what’s bound to be an emotional graduation.
“It’s unbelievable. Time has just flown ... I saw them come in,” said Long, who started her presidency at Baker when members of this year’s graduating class were freshmen. “From the very first I knew they would be a special class.”
There will be 170 graduates at the 1 p.m. Sunday ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate School of Education and the School of Nursing.
What Long intends to tell them is to “look up.” As she says this, she is looking down in concentration, her fingers flying, as if she were texting.
9:30 a.m. - Baccalaureate ceremony, Baldwin First United Methodist Church.
1 p.m. - Commencement for College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, School of Education undergraduate degrees, Collins Center.
4:30 p.m. - Commencement for School of Education graduate degrees, Collins Center.
“I’m going to tell them to take some time to enjoy things,” Long said. “This generation has learned to communicate by texting. That’s what I’ll say: Look up. Even four years ago, I don’t know how many of them would have been on Facebook. Now they have already met on Facebook before they meet face to face.”
Long knows the current economic situation doesn’t help this group of graduates. The job market is tough. Very tough.
“I think it’s a real concern, not to say it’s not for anyone looking for a job,” she said. “Maybe one out of four, I’m guessing, already has a job lined up or is on their second or third interview. I’m guessing at least half the class doesn’t have anything lined up, unless it’s graduate school. Even our best students say they don’t have anything lined up.”
The Rev. Ira DeSpain, longtime campus minister, who also is a Baker graduate, knows students have benefited from Long’s tutelage.
“President Long jumped in with her heart and soul as she assumed the presidency here,” DeSpain said. “She has continued the legacy of putting students first in all that Baker does. She’s experienced a great deal: the death of a student, Molly Larson, in 2007, and a financial crisis driven by the world economic collapse. Through it all, she has continued to lead with vision and compassion. … Some of the students who entered with her have developed into great campus leaders, with the potential now of being leaders in business, industry, the arts and education.”
Long sees that and much more with her first graduating class. She knows her commencement address will be hard.
“I can’t imagine that I won’t be choking up,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to see these students develop and grow, and now they’re moving on.”