This weekend’s graduation activities at Kansas State University are obviously a big deal to the 5,000 or so graduates and their families. But is it important to those who have no immediate involvement in the event?
It ought to be. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the events of this weekend represent the single most important weekend of any calendar year in Manhattan.
Commencement — the passage of individuals from the learning phase to the work phase — is the reason why KSU exists. And if KSU did not exist here, Manhattan would be a dramatically different, less vibrant and less interesting, place.
The latest federal census estimate of the city’s population — which counts college students — is 53,678. That ranks us eighth in the state in size. Without college students, Manhattan’s population would be about 30,000, a total that would rank 14th in the state.
Except the fall would be more precipitous than that, because without the presence of students the city would also lose a substantial number of the approximately 5,800 professors and others who draw a paycheck from K-State, along with their families. Also lost would be some number of private sector employees of businesses supported either directly or indirectly by the university trade. To put the total number of such departures at 7,500 is conservative. Our community of 53,678 would shrink to about 22,500. That’s about the size of Junction City.
Without this weekend, there would, of course, be no football or basketball champions to celebrate, and no baseball championship to anticipate. Manhattan would have no basis from which to draw such prestigious public figures as have participated in the Landon Lecture series here, and no entertainment of the stature of the McCain series.
Because it is a routine, scheduled event, Manhattanites tend to take graduation weekend for granted. Superficially, its most significant aspect is the clearance of foot and motor traffic congestion from local streets for a few months. We become, for a few months, a comparatively small town.
We may like it that way, but only for the respite it provides from our normal communal identity. The reality is that K-State gives this city its vibrancy, and the corollary reality is that K-State’s sole reason for existence is encapsulated in graduation weekend.
We salute this year’s graduates for their accomplishments. In doing so, let us not forget the central role the university itself plays in the life of this community.