I’ve been a full-time academic in Buffalo, New York since 2005. That’s when I joined Medaille College in a tenure-track position in English. The first 10 years of my academic life here, I went to Kleinhans Music Hall maybe three or four times a year. Maybe only once. Always at least once. The most important trip to Kleinhans, when you’re an academic in Buffalo, New York, is the one that comes around this time of the year: the graduation ceremonies.
Five years or six years ago, I moved into the Kleinhans neighborhood, so now a walk around Symphony Circle is a daily occurrence. I go to concerts and events here more often now. When I’m working, I drive by this place at least twice every day. Still, that graduation day remains a unique and special experience of Kleinhans.
When I was out on my COVID constitutional today, part of my route went by Kleinhans. When I got to that block of Porter Avenue, I had a flashback to all those graduations. The nagging excitement, and the aggravation of it all. It’s a rule: graduations in Buffalo must always be on the first beautiful Saturday of the year when I had absolutely no grading or class planning to do, and here I would be, having to spend the entire day watching students go absolutely insane. So, I would always wait until the last minute, even though that meant the parking and traffic was abysmal. Goddamn those narrow streets! Who planned these roads? What’s the big deal with this traffic circle? All of that aggravation, plus the tedium of it all. I mean seriously: it’s a beautiful thing for the students, but faculty are generally an ornament. We play games on our phones, read magazines inside our programs, take votes on which of our students is wearing the best shoes, count the number of Honors students, listen to the mistaken pronunciation of students’ names, anticipate the announcement of which faculty member would receive the coveted Brian Shero Award. I won it once. That was the year I actually didn’t make it to the graduation. I was in Spain. The president of the College made an excuse for me: “she’s doing research abroad.”
Oh, there’s refreshments. Groups of faculty always go to Allen Street during the two hour break between the Graduate Student ceremony and the Undergraduate Ceremony. Most of us are pleasantly buzzed by the time of the insanity of that second event. And the cookies afterwards.
Yeah, it’s just cookies, but traditionally, this has been my time to shake my students’ hands, give hugs, or just nods across the room, to say “congratulations” and wish a beautiful life. It’s always so anticlimactic. Still, I’m always so grateful to have been there, for that event, not to mention for those four years of each students’ lives. During those four years, I often witness the transformation from kid to adult. It’s an awesome responsibility and an honor to be a college professor. Especially at a small urban college, where my students are so diverse. So many are first generation college students. Just making it to Kleinhans probably seemed an impossibility for most of them when they first started. So when they saunter across that stage, and their parents are screaming, and they stop in the middle and do a jig, well, I applaud them. Or when they rush across in sensible flats, shyly shake a couple hands, then hurry down the steps. I applaud them. Or when they’re wearing their best Sunday clothes, walking tall, feeling proud. I applaud them. It’s an amazing sight to behold.
So today I was walking by Kleinhans. And when I had this flashback. I started filming what I saw as I walked. Today is so typical of the day I’d be required to be at Kleinhans. But it’s pretty deserted. You’ll notice there’s a group of kids meeting in the parking lot, in a perfectly spaced, socially distant circle. They’ve been there every day this past week. The other day, I saw a young woman, standing all alone in front of the building, dressed in her graduation gown. It blew in the wind as she took a selfie in front of Kleinhans. I applauded from the sidewalk, but she didn’t see me. She got in her car and drove away.
You’ll notice too that that Tai Chi place is for sale. And that community garden that is supposed to be Shakespeare’s Garden is awaiting someone to obsess over making sure all its blooms are Elizabethan. It was beautiful a couple years ago. Last year, not so much so.
I dedicate this to all of my colleagues, and to all of the students whose lives have been part of mine, in one way or another.
2 thoughts on “To all my fellow academics and students in Buffalo, New York”
Beautiful words and sentiments. My heart aches for the young woman who stood in front of Kleinhans, wearing cap and gown, taking a selfie. I wish she had seen you clapping for her. I hope she knows we’re all clapping.
Thank you, Mary Lou.