Columns, Commencement 2009

I was graduated from Brown

Senior Editor
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Before I started writing this column, I looked up quotations about saying goodbye. They were all cheesy one-liners about not really leaving, just sort of saying goodbye before paths would cross again. I asked friends for their thoughts on graduating from Brown. But I have to give credit here to my Comp Lit roommate who responded to my question with a seemingly simple question about grammar, one that stuck out in a sea of similar sentiments.

Her question was this: Is it grammatically correct to say that we graduated Brown, or we graduated from Brown? Colloquially, the former sounded right to my ears, but after doing some research — Google proved helpful — the latter would be Webster’s preference. It would actually more correct in passive voice: “I was graduated from Brown,” though that one passed out of fashion years ago.

The verb to graduate can be both transitive and intransitive. A transitive verb (bear with me here for an overly simplistic explanation) has an object that receives the action while an intransitive verb doesn’t. “To graduate from” a university is intransitive, since the subject — the graduate — is not acting on the object, Brown University.  By dropping the word “from,” I, as the subject of the sentence, would suggest I had transferred the action onto Brown — I graduated Brown, rather than the other way around. To use this structure changes it to a transitive verb, suggesting that we as graduates have done something that has changed Brown. This may be grammatically incorrect, but I’d like to think that it’s true in spirit.

I entered Brown four years ago with a vague interest in books; I’m graduating with a degree in English literature and education studies. Along the way I’ve taken classes in a variety of departments. I studied abroad. I volunteered. I wrote for a campus daily. I completed a thesis. I’ve met professors that have shaped my academics. I’ve met people that have surprised me with the depth and breadth of their studies, passions and talents. Brown provided me with the space to learn, but it also gave me the responsibility to shape my own curriculum. I shaped my four years here with the gift of independence from a university that recognizes the value in giving its students the responsibility of defining their own Brown education.

So in the years to follow, I may say that I graduated from Brown, to give credit to the institution that has shaped my intellectual and personal development, but I’d like to give Brown students a bit of credit as well. It may not be grammatically correct, but to say we graduated Brown suggests that it will hopefully continue to change as the coming generations of Brown students continue to lead this University in previously unexplored directions. I look forward to keeping up with what my fellow graduates will do next year, but also seeing how the incoming students will continue to graduate the University I graduated this year. 

Irene Chen ’09 is heading west in a conestoga wagon to teach elementary school in New Mexico next year.