There is something magical about the ritual of graduation. As anthropologists, we understand that rituals have the power to transition people from one social category into another; through commencement we transform students into alumni. As I processed through a sea of red caps and gowns on graduation day, I felt the magic of commencement reminding me that the articles and books, papers and exams, projects and events, lectures and meetings that constitute the rhythm of the academic year have a purpose, one that is clearly apparent for you.
Those academic activities are the learning opportunities through which one gains the analytical and communication skills that open the pathways to careers. Commencement is an opportunity to take the long view on how coursework is preparation for life work, even if, when walking across the stage, the freshly minted graduate still doesn’t quite know what they will be doing next.
And that’s okay, because anthropology students have the skills to land on their feet. They know what it means to be human -- that is, that there are countless ways to live constructive lives in meaningful social worlds.
Our 100 anthropology majors, 30 anthropology minors, 19 archaeology minors, and 41 global health minors did amazing things this year. Our students have been on digs at Tel Akko in Israel, on San Salvador in the Bahamas, and on the grounds of the McGuffey Museum in Oxford. They have conducted field projects in places like Oxford and Cincinnati, as well as in places like Zambia, Poland, and South Africa. They have studied primates in the Cincinnati Zoo, and collaborated on projects to address infant mortality in Butler County. They have written grant proposals, transcribed and analyzed interactions, and in a single course on politics and power, interacted with seven visiting anthropologists from around the country. We had 18 majors and 9 minors present research at the Miami Undergraduate Research Forum this spring, and 3 of our students presented research at national scholarly conferences.
July 1, 2018 will mark my first full year as chair of the Department of Anthropology at Miami University. One of my deepest joys in this new position is meeting alumni and hearing about how they have applied their anthropological training and perspectives as they forged the path for their lives. I have met Miami anthropology alumni, who, this year, did everything from publishing scholarly articles to practicing medicine, from raising globally conscious children to running museums, from tracking bonobos to excavating sites. Our alumni have been actively engaged in politics, agriculture, music, counseling, reading, advocacy, and traveling.
Commencement for me is a day of pride in our students, celebrating their readiness to forge their paths as alumni. And it is a day of hope, knowing that through their deeds, in large and small ways, our anthropology alumni make the world a better place.
I look forward to learning about the paths you have taken since leaving Miami.