Higher Ed: The Community-Building Power Of Ritual In Education

May 5, 2019

The pomp and circumstance of graduation brings students, teachers, staff and family together to celebrate achievement and usher students onto their next steps in learning and life. That ritual not only honors students, but also creates a shared opportunity for a campus community to strengthen bonds. In this episode of the KUT podcast "Higher Ed," KUT's Jennifer Stayton and Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger discuss the importance of ritual in education.

Graduation is probably the first ceremony that comes to mind when thinking about the rituals associated with education. Commencement certainly exists to celebrate achievements and bestow accolades. But Ed believes that ceremony also speaks to a deeper human truth.

"As human beings, we believe in community," says Ed. "So the idea of having the community come together, which includes your family and your friends and your teachers and your colleagues who are students ... it's a shared moment."

Certainly the basic business of graduation could be done with no pomp and circumstance simply by mailing out diplomas at the end of the school year. Ed believes, though, that the entire community - not just the graduates - benefits from sharing in students' triumphs.

"In today's world, where everything moves so fast and everyone's on their electronic devices," says Ed, "to take a moment to come together as a community - whatever that definition means for that context of community, live in the same space - and celebrate that triumphant moment ... it just uplifts the spirit. And so we want those moments of uplifting memories to hold onto."

Most, if not all, of the rituals in education involve celebrating positive achievements. Left to his own devices to invent a new ritual in education, Ed would turn the focus to elevating something that is normally not celebrated - what he calls "effective failure" from which we learn lessons.

"I think the idea of having a big pomp and circumstance and genuine celebration when things don't go right," Ed believes, "as long as we have come to a place where we had an epiphany and we're going to move forward in a way that will make us better - I think we should be celebrating that."

Listen to the full episode for more on the role of ritual in education and what title Ed would give to his new ceremony. It is also time for the solution to last episode's anagram puzzler. Listen closely, though, as it may not be as complicated as it first sounded.

This episode was recorded on April 2, 2019.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.