After I took that last exam on Thursday, I sat down with my faculty advisor, who doubles as the chair of Hofstra's engineering department. I did manage to work in the story of how I came to the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and California Avenue. I mentioned what I thought were some of the strengths of the program (close contact with faculty, small classes), as well as its weaknesses (a rigid curriculum, and tutorial classes for some upper level IE requirements). I also got the opportunity to ask some questions about where Hofstra engineering is going. The upper echelons of the University's leadership have ramped up their commitment to engineering, with the goal of transforming the current department into a School of Engineering and Applied Science. I had wondered about what structure this new institution would take, and whether a building would be erected to complement or replace the current Weed Hall. I heard a lot of good things. Perhaps most importantly, I was told that if Hofstra ventures into graduate programs in engineering, they won't proceed beyond the master's level. To go further than that would jeopardize the commitment to undergraduate instruction that is a great asset of not only the department, but of all of Hofstra - perhaps its greatest asset.
I also asked my advisor some questions that did not directly pertain to the department. Among them was the matter of whether the University bestowed Latin honors; I had no idea whether such a practice was in place here. A quick check of our course catalog provided a most refreshing answer. For one, the minimum GPA threshold to receive even the "cum laude" designation is 3.6. To put it another way, Hofstra doesn't hand these things out like candy...or like Harvard. For two, my Hofstra GPA is greater than 3.9, and so I am entitled to the "summa cum laude" designation. I checked the course catalog myself a few days later...and breathed a chuckle and a small sigh of relief. The honors are automatically conferred on all graduates with at least 82 credits at Hofstra - roughly two-thirds of the requirement for many degrees here4. Otherwise, work from previously attended institutions would be factored in, which most likely would have disqualified me from those honors. From time to time, I have had occasion to gripe about the transferability of credit from Cornell - most particularly in freshman composition and general chemistry, the latter of which I had to retake here in this final semester. But that seems to have had the unintended consequence of making me take enough credits here to allow me to take my degree with distinction.
Cornell actually did play an indirect part in my getting to this point. For the purposes of calculating tuition benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the consideration of Cornell's statutory divisions as public institutions was instrumental in my being able to afford Hofstra under those benefits. And though it should go without saying, I'll say it anyway - I have to thank both the Veterans Administration and the Navy for their help in getting me here. I had no expectation of receiving this level of education benefit when I enlisted, but I can't be more pleased with what Senator Webb hath wrought. As for the Navy...for all the griping I've done about it - and I have done a lot - I can't deny that it had at least some effect on how I approached college this time around. I have long pondered whether the massive uptick in my GPA at Hofstra, relative to Cornell, is due to the material being easier, or me being more ready to tackle it. When I arrived in Ithaca over twelve years ago, I had to face two things that I had not previously experienced: living on my own, and having to work for my grades. Even before 9/11 derailed my academic career on the East Hill, I was content to go to class when I pleased - and if those classes were early in the morning, I was not pleased to do so as often as I should have been. But after surviving the crucible that is the Submarine Service - and in particular, the USS Memphis - I was not so daunted by those prospects. After enduring things like 2:30 a.m. reactor startup briefs and ORSE workups, slogging through morning rush-hour traffic to make a 9:35 class seems like a light burden. As such, I can let you in on a little secret that I've come to learn here at Hofstra, but that somehow eluded me at Cornell - exams are a hell of a lot easier when you've seen all of the material in lecture and done the corresponding homework.
One thing about this commencement ceremony that I'm not sure what to make of is a line that I keep seeing over and over again, one that goes like this: "The academic attire is free of charge, and yours to keep after the ceremony." On one hand, it's a nice tangible benefit, something I'm getting out of my tuition dollars...I mean, the VA 's tuition dollars...so really, I mean your tax dollars. On the other, it seems like it might be a waste of money; from a dollars and cents standpoint, might it be better to lend out caps and gowns to students and have them returned after the ceremony?5
As far as the next chapter...well, I don't know just yet. I'd like to stay on Long Island, but that is most certainly not a necessary condition of any future employment. I'll start thinking about that in earnest on Wednesday morning. Until then, I'm content to have used the last few days as the closest thing to a "senior week" as can be. And I will walk across that stage with unfettered pride, eternally thankful for the second chance Hofstra was gracious enough to give me, and certain that she will sustain me with her strength in any path I pursue...6
1 This does not connote a third trip to Hofstra's Provost List; that requires a 4.0 GPA over a minimum of twelve credits. I only took ten his fall.
2 Degree Audit Report; a system Hofstra has that generates automated reports detailing what requirements are met and which ones remain outstanding.
3 However, I won't actually receive the diploma for at least another two months.
4 The minimum number of credits for a baccalaureate degree anywhere in the University is 124. Some schools, like the business school, require a higher number (128); at the time of my matriculation here, no engineering program required fewer than 131.
5 For what it's worth, the gown looks pretty cool; it has the Hofstra logo embroidered over each shoulder blade. Northport High, the Navy, Hofstra...for the life of me, I simply CANNOT escape blue and gold.
6 That last part is modified from Hofstra's alma mater, "The Netherlands." I am still working on getting the words down - yes, I know I've had two and a half years...