Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Congratulations to the 2015 Graduates

2015 Commencement at Rutgers University-Newark,
at the Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
(photo © Rutgers University-Newark Facebook)
When I switched back from teaching on the quarter to the semester system in 2012, I wasn't sure how long it would take me to readjust, but in truth it took no time to reacquaint myself with the fact that May, rather than June, would bring a swift conclusion to the academic year, with final exams and grading compressed into a rapid-fire period, and graduation following swiftly thereafter. (I confess that I do like semesters more--a lot more!--than quarters.)

This year, my sabbatical-sick leave has kept me away from campus for most of the last five months, so the spring academic calendar has remained fairly hazy, but when May rolled in, I knew graduation events would also arrive soon. This past Saturday evening I was able to drop by the celebration for our graduating Rutgers University-Newark MFA students, who received their hoods at a ceremony that afternoon. They, like the rest of the graduating students from all the university's constituent divisions walked at the university-wide Commencement ceremony, which was held at the Prudential Center in Newark on Monday.

Rutgers University-Newark's 2015
Commencement speaker, Earl Lewis,
President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
(photo © Rutgers University-Newark Facebook)
Because of the sabbatical I did not advise any MFA or undergraduate students this spring, but I was fortunate to have many of the graduating writers in classes that included last spring's Writers at Newark and last fall's fiction workshop, and I taught some of the departing undergraduates in courses ranging from Foundations of Literary Study to my courses on contemporary African Diasporic Fiction and the Black Arts Movement. Both groups were diverse in every way, and I feel fortunate to be able to say that I have learned as much from them as they from me.

To all of the 2015 Rutgers-Newark MFA graduates, as well as my many undergraduate students who have received their degrees this week, I offer my heartiest and warmest CONGRATULATIONS! I look forward to staying in touch in the years to come, and as I always say to the writers among you, please keep writing!


Over the decade that I taught at Northwestern, I supervised quite a few students: 13 MFA theses as first reader; 11 as second reader; 15 MFA student independent studies; 11 undergraduate creative writing honors theses; 4 undergraduate literature or African American Studies theses; 2 undergraduate internships; 1 MA independent study (which was curtailed when the student was injured in a car accident); and 7 undergraduate creative writing or literature independent studies. These superb students have gone on to do wonderful things in the literary and other worlds, and I treasure having had the opportunity to work with all of them, as I do with all my students, going back to NYU, Brown, and of course, now at Rutgers-Newark.

Yet it was not until a few weeks ago that I could offer congratulations to my last NU MFA thesis advisee, Whitney Youngs, who submitted as her thesis an excerpt of a novel she is writing. I was delighted to serve as her first reader, to read the manuscript through again, and to be able to sign off on her behalf. As a result, Whitney will receive her MFA degree in June! I have watched Whitney grow as a writer and person since she enrolled in an MA/MFA workshop I taught many years ago, and it has been a special pleasure to work with her in shaping and polishing her fiction, especially this novel, which I hope she completes and publishes.

To Whitney, congratulations many times over, and to all my students, including the Northwestern MA/MFA and undergraduate students with whom I worked and who are also receiving their degrees this June, CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU!

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