Another step: Graduation part of lifelong exploration

Ivy Tech Community College’s Columbus campus celebrated its annual graduation ceremony May 13 at Columbus North High School’s gymnasium. Among the blue banners, family and friends cheered as new college graduates walked across the stage to pick up their diplomas.

Our graduates are quite different from each other. They have unique backgrounds, as well as diverse ambitions. But there is something that all of our graduates have in common: they are explorers.

I have always admired explorers. As a youth, I was amazed by the accomplishments of people such as Jane Goodall, John Glenn and Sir Edmund Hillary. I had assumed that to be an explorer meant that you had to climb a mountain, sail a vast ocean or escape the bonds of Earth’s gravity. But I was wrong. You do not have to be on the cover of National Geographic or land on the moon to be an explorer or adventurer.

As I studied history and embarked on my own travels, I realized that I could be an explorer on my own terms. Although I was not canoeing down the Amazon or discovering Machu Picchu, I could explore ideas that were new to me. I could go to places, either intellectually or geographically, that I had not seen before.

Graduation is not a journey’s end. I hope that it is, rather, just the start of a voyage. I have heard more than once the weary jest that a diploma is “just a piece of paper.” But I think that it is a ticket to a new world. It might mean a new job, a promotion, or a step toward more education. Learning, of any kind, pushes back boundaries. Education, whether formal or informal, brings illumination to a world desperately in need of light.

This ticket comes with obligations that do not end with graduation. It is a symbol that you will pursue knowledge after you leave school. Education hopefully gives graduates the tools to be lifelong learners.

What really defines an explorer is the desire to find out what is around the next corner. After all, explorers are on quests. Deep in their psyche, they are driven into the unknown. Curiosity urges them down the next mile of the road. A passion for knowledge compels them to turn the next page of the book.

Whether students are just at the start of an entirely new expedition or changing their course mid-journey, they are exploring a new world. To even get to graduation, I know many students who have already taken an incredible personal journey. They have overcome financial challenges, doubt and personal obstacles. Many stories that I have heard would already make for compelling memoirs.

In the process of earning the diploma, graduates learn new skills. Their classes have challenged them to think critically. They have completed difficult projects. Along the way, they have met a diverse group of people and made new friends. That certainly sounds like exploration.

Graduates will not only push back their own personal boundaries, but they will also be able to make progress for society. They will go on to invent, make academic and scientific discoveries or launch new enterprises.

More explorers will graduate in June from area high schools. Their expeditions are also just beginning. The short walk across the stage at graduation might seem like the end of a journey, but hopefully it is just the start of the adventure.

Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to