Posthumous degree: a piece of paper announcing to the world that a student got within a single semester of graduation, and was stopped only by dying.
Adding insult to injury is an old phrase and one that aptly describes the posthumous degree.
The injury, of course, is the loss of a loved one, but the degree is just flat insulting.
It’s insulting to the family and not just because the school will only award one after a lengthy process.
It’s insulting because this is a life tool, being awarded to a deceased person. And it’s not truly a degree, but a sort of “certificate” that shows the deceased almost made it.
It’s insulting to the deceased.
They put in years of work to obtain this tool to make life better or to make a better life for their loved ones. After they die, their recognition comes in the form of a tool that can’t help anyone.
Finally, it’s insulting to the students walking across the stage.
Yes, a person has died. It’s tragic. But graduation is a celebration of life and looking forward.
To hand an equivalent of that same hard-earned degree to someone who has died in the name of honoring the past demeans the degree held by other graduates.
Recognition should be offered, but it should be recognition that actually means something.
Perhaps a letter from the president offering condolences, and commending the student. Maybe a plaque from the faculty in the student’s degree program, signed by all, and noting some outstanding quality of the student.
Or, how about a minute of silence during graduation ceremonies, announced over the PA system in honor of a student who passed too soon?
But perhaps none of these are offered for the simplest of reasons: it’s just less expensive for all concerned to give out certificates of incompletion, labeled as degrees, to honor those deceased who put time and money into their school.
To contact Jeremy Cloud, email firstname.lastname@example.org.