Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MFA Graduation Reading: Eight Years Later, Standing in Very Different Shoes

Some (not all) faculty, and all graduating students, Bay Path MFA 2016
Early this month, the seven writers who make up the first graduating class of the Bay Path University MFA program in which I teach, gathered on campus in Longmeadow, Massachusetts for a reading and celebration. 

When I got the email two months earlier, inviting faculty, it took me less than a minute to reply yes. What's a three hour drive compared to an in-real-life event of that importance? Yes. Yes. And, yes!

For an all-online MFA program, still in its toddlerhood, having those newly minted MFA students—as well as a handful of other students whose programs are still in progress—plus seven faculty members (who could make the trip), the program director, tech and program support staff, dean, and college president, all in the same room (the university's library, of course), was wildly wonderful. 
For me, the day brought memories of completing my own MFA eight years ago. Standing in different shoes this time—watching and listening to writers whose MFA journey I helped mentor—was an especially fulfilling and humbling experience. It helped me understand better why my own MFA graduating class's mentors were once shedding tears.
As I listened to the students read, I kept thinking what a privilege it is to have witnessed, and helped nurture, their transformation from excited new MFA students whose work held so much promise, to far more skilled, more confident, more interesting writers, who are delivering on that promise many times over.
It was my lucky good fortune to introduce two of the student readers. As I delivered the introductions, I was far more nervous than I ever am reading my own work in public. The occasion felt weighty, as if I had been entrusted with a job of great import, and would have only one chance to do it right. It was also very clear to me that it was not at all about me. 
realized that hardly anything equates to the feeling of telling a roomful of eagerly waiting people just how lucky they are—because they are about to hear something special, created and so carefully polished, by someone they care about.
While I was writing those brief introductions, I found myself constantly in mind of something Richard Hoffman, a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program, once said to me, on the eve of my own graduation: that it was time for me to cease being his student and be welcomed into the literary world as his colleague.
I have new colleagues now. Lucky me.

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