Running the Campus

NECC President Lane Glenn shares stories and perspectives on leadership, higher education, and going the extra mile

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Grad Grips & iShakes

Note: An earlier version of this story was published by Inside Higher Ed on May 23, 2013.

As the President of Northern Essex Community College, with campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of the best parts of my job is handing out degrees and shaking the hands of graduating students at our annual Commencement ceremony on the third Saturday of May each year.

Among the several hundred students who graduated at NECC’s 62nd Annual Commencement ceremony today, I noticed a few distinct styles of handshakes:

The Grad Grip:  The most commonly seen handshake at commencement.  The student waits patiently at the side of the stage for his name to be called, smiles broadly while crossing the eight feet or so of space between us, notices my outstretched right hand, grabs it for a few shakes, sees the degree I’m offering them, plucks it from my left hand, pauses briefly for a picture, then dashes for the other side of the stage.

The Near-Miss:  It’s an important moment — the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice, and now everyone is watching. And then there are all those strangely dressed people on the stage.  And bagpipe music?  It’s enough to make anyone a little nervous, and nearly miss a handshake in the rush to grab that diploma and make it safely to the other side. A half step back to grab that offered hand, though, and all is well.

The Paparazzi Pump: Even with the hired phalanx of photographers at the edge of the stage, some students like to have a family member or friend backing them up and snapping the moment for posterity. The Paparazzi Pump happens when I shake hands and the student doesn’t let go — vigorously continuing the shake and grinning off to the side until they get the “thumbs up” from their camera-toting buddy in the crowd.

The Rockstar: This one’s not what you think it is.  Yes, many students wear cool-looking sunglasses and even rhinestone-studded mortarboards to celebrate the Big Day; but this handshake — which involves rapidly pumping my hand up and down like the beating of a hummingbird’s wings — comes from the natural excitement and energy of the moment — or the enormous amount of caffeine in the large Dunkies coffee or “Rockstar” energy drink they had just after breakfast.

The Mad Men Mash:  Favored by 1960s advertising executives (and some 21st-century business and accounting majors), the Mad Men Mash is usually practiced by graduates wearing nicely pressed suits and ties, and involves striding proudly across the stage, extending an arm straightforward, gripping my hand like a vise, looking me directly in the eye, and saying a clear and confident, “Thank you,” to the applause of a cheering claque of admirers.

The Proud Lefty: For the photograph to work just right, it’s important that I shake with my right hand, and distribute degrees with my left, so I am careful to hold my right hand out just as each student begins to cross the stage so they know what to expect.  Invariably, though, there are some southpaws who insist on a left-handed shake, requiring that I quickly change hands with the diploma and shift my position in the box taped to the stage. (Be proud, lefties!  I just hope those pictures are turning out O.K.…)

The iShake:  This one first appeared at Commencement about a decade ago, and it grows more popular every year.  Those robes don’t come with pockets, you know, so what’s a newly minted college graduate to do with her car keys, pocket book, commencement program, and, of course, cell phone? Well, the keys, purse and program will be just fine left behind on the folding chair, but the phone? At least half of today’s grads brought it along and did the iShake.

Hmmm …. Maybe by next year, someone will develop an app for that.

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