In a regular feature, we’ll explore the “Life of a Lecturer,” inviting the staff of the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies to reflect on their experiences at the University of Reading and beyond.
To inaugurate the series, we’ve invited Dr Paola Nasti, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, to share with us her thoughts on graduation day. Dr Nasti, an expert on Medieval Italy, teaches students from their first to their final year, from a first-year module on “Italian Medieval and Renaissance Culture” to a final-year module on the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, one of the most fascinating, innovative and influential works of Western culture. That means that Dr Nasti has worked closely with today’s graduating students since they first arrived on campus in Reading, a fact that has led her to some profound reflections:
Graduation Day. I am an early bird today. I need to do some work before I get ready for the big day. I sit with my large strong Italian espresso and I think back over last night’s dreams. In my dream, I’m in a beautiful kitchen, there is a big beautifully dressed table, colourful food and people chatting loudly. It’s my extended English family. The in-laws, brothers, nephews, children. At the table the conversation comes to a halt. There’s news. The in-laws will be moving to another country. My brother-in-law is moving to another city. The house will be empty.
Still dreaming, I pass through big rooms and I hear the echoes of memories. Here the chocolate stains on the sofa from last Easter; there grandma’s chair; on that wall a picture of the children’s first day of school. I get out on the front garden and the neighbours’ door is wide open. Boxes everywhere and just one of them looking after the luggage. Where is everybody else? They have left, moved. The oldest daughter is going as far as Singapore for a new job. I walk through the boxes and the rooms filled with echoes. I see their back garden: remember that barbecue when I first made bruschette for you?
I’m awake now, and my cup is empty. My feelings bittersweet. The empty houses, the departures, all those memories. My mind is getting ready for the annual fair of goodbyes: the graduation of my students. Empty classes, cars full of luggage, memories of the daily conversations we used to have. The melancholy of the end of an era. But at the kitchen sink an old Italian song comes to mind: “Si muore un po’ per poter vivere, la la la” (“You die a little bit in order to live, la la la”). It’s a song of farewell just as today, graduation day, is a day of farewells. Yet today’s goodbyes mark new beginnings.
My students will start a new life, follow new adventures. Many will travel and decide to stay and work overseas. They have learnt to be confident citizens of the world during their time at Reading, and in the Year Abroad, and they know they can be successful wherever they go. Others will move back home, or to a new town, begin a new career or start teachers’ training and postgraduate studies.
They’ll be smiling today, full of pride and hope, and I will rejoice with them. And there will be pictures of hats thrown in the air, Pimm’s drunk on the lawn, applause and official processions. We will all look smart but unhappy with the size of our hats, there will be last minute pins flying around in the dressing room and girls with uncomfortable shoes. The boys will look surprisingly grown up in their dark suits and today everybody will be wearing sun glasses.
We will meet parents beaming with joy, and we will tell them how proud we are of their sons and daughters, of their achievements. We will join our students in considering how much they have matured over the last three of four years. There will be hugs, and promises of forever-friendships and I know they’ll be true.
Year after year I see my ex-students chatting and keeping in touch via social networks. Ha! Social networks! Over the last three days so many of my past students have re-published their graduation pictures adding sweet messages.
Graduation day is not only the fair of goodbyes, as my dream suggested. It is a day for sowing as well as harvesting. Sowing for the future.
I have decided to defeat my bittersweet melancholy. I’ll add some colour to my outfit. I should be wearing dark according to the etiquette. But my students never wear dark. Today there will be a parade of pastel, bright or even neon colours. I shall wear my flowery dress too, then! And next year the rooms will fill again, new students will arrive. But my teaching will carry the memory and mark of my previous students. Their questions, their reactions have sown seeds in my mind too. And the beautiful conversations with them will live on. I know, this is a very sentimental day, when I will be thanking my students for the beautiful banquet of the last four years. Now it is up to them to share the news of their future adventures.