A Goddard College graduation ceremony is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen in higher education.
There are multiple graduations each semester, one for each degree or cluster of degrees that share a 10-day intensive residency on campus. We might have five to ten graduates at a given ceremony. Time is devoted to talking about each graduate as well as giving the graduate an opportunity to address the audience. As one program director describes it, everyone at Goddard is a valedictorian. That is because everyone is on their own learning journey, having played a critical role in creating or co-creating their learning plan each semester.
How graduates use their time at the podium ranges from the customary words of gratitude for important people in their lives to expressions of their passion about one or more pressing matters in the world. There are tears and there is laughter. There are simple words, poems, songs, and even the occasional costume; like the recent graduate who showed up late, walking in the back door in a full suit of armor.
It is a powerful event, with many unexpected emotions, and I often find myself jotting down quotes and moments that I want to remember.
In one of the last graduations of the fall semester, I listened as a graduate reminisced about when she first learned that she was accepted into Goddard College. She felt honored and excited. When she shared the good news with her family, her mother replied, “But doesn’t Goddard have a 100% acceptance rate?” The audience laughed as the graduate went on to talk about her transformational experience at the college.
For that particular graduation ceremony, you might guess what I wrote in my journal. “100% acceptance rate? Is this true?” Having only been the president of Goddard College for less than a year, I was pretty sure that we didn’t have a 100% acceptance rate, but I thought I should at least check it out.
It turns out that it is not exactly true.
Goddard has no interest in being an elitist or exclusive college. We’re interested in how much a person grows from the time of entry to graduation than we are about a long list of accolades and accomplishments prior to admittance. We are seeking people who wish to engage in deep, authentic, meaning-rich, and transformational learning.
Sometimes people apply to Goddard College and it is determined, after a careful review of their application, that the applicant doesn’t meet the admissions requirements. Or, rather than such a formal process, someone at the college might talk to a given applicant, have a personal conversation about whether or not Goddard is the best fit for that person. After all, we are not trying to sell Goddard College to every interested student as much as we are trying to connect with people whom we believe can flourish in our distinct, learner-driven environment.
So while we don’t accept 100% of the applicants, we are actually a college that strives toward a 100% acceptance rate in another way. For those who are admitted, we strive to create an environment where each student doesn’t have to fit in with the crowd. Students follow their own, personalized learning path; and we serve to guide and support each student along the way. This is a deeply learner-driven approach to education. Rather than being told what to do by professors; students are encouraged, invited, challenged, even expected to take much greater ownership for their learning. It is challenging, but the inspiring results are undeniable.
Even in my short time at the college, I’ve heard countless stories of transformation; hearing students tell me about how this community supported them on a journey of discovery and becoming, growing courage and confidence to stand up for what is most important to them.
As many at Goddard College like to say, this is a place where you can be and become your true self.
by Bernard Bull, former President of Goddard College