SUNY Oswego School of Education
Good afternoon, President Stanley, esteemed faculty and staff, family and friends of our graduates—and the graduating Class of 2014. This is your day. I am so pleased to be here to share it with you.
Oswego is my birthplace. It is the community that nurtured me as I grew up—and this college is the place that shaped my values and my identity, and inspired me to commit my professional life to the education of young people. I’m very grateful to this place, very appreciative.
I see so clearly how my career has been shaped by experiences I had here at SUNY Oswego. My love for working with college students was born serving here in the Orientation Program as an advisor. I honed my leadership skills in my sorority experiences in Alpha Sigma Chi. My ability to appreciate cultural differences and to understand different points of view were shaped by my experiences here in philosophy, art history and Shakespeare classes and so many more. And certainly my understanding and love of the teaching and learning process has all of its roots in the education classes I took here and in my relationships with the faculty. I see how all of these experiences and many others I had here had such great impact on my life. I hope you will feel the same as you reflect on your college experience.
Those of us who love this place and are away from it now tend to exaggerate and glorify it—and the longer we are away, the grander we remember it. So the sunsets over Lake Ontario are a magnificent spectacle that certainly exceed the Alaskan Aurora Borealis. Of course the coney-hots at Rudy’s are like an inferno! Nothing like a coney at Rudy’s!—and I intend to get one of those before I leave this weekend. The winter snow is like no other—the snow banks exceed 10 feet every winter, and we all know winter lasts from September to May. Well, maybe the length of the winter season here isn’t an exaggeration at all. It’s been pretty cold since I got here.
I do want to sing the praises of this wonderful and unique place. President Stanley and the leadership team guide this college so capably. The faculty and staff here in the School of Education invest themselves in the development of our students. And our graduates are committed to the education of the young people they have trained to serve.
I congratulate all of you today for committing your lives to the education of young people. This is a noble choice you have made, and this is a life of challenge that you have chosen.
I believe that working in education provides a magic window on the world. Families will entrust their precious children to your care, and you—each and every one of you—will have the power to shape the future of countless individuals and society as a whole.
Recently I read a compelling book—“The Other Wes Moore” by Wes Moore—and I had a chance to meet the author. He is an accomplished businessman, the winner of countless awards and recognitions. He tells his own story and the story of another man by the name of Wes Moore, both of whom grew up in challenging neighborhoods in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. While the author, a Rhodes Scholar, is leading an enviable and productive life, his counterpart by the same name is serving a 20-year prison sentence for being the driver in a robbery gone bad in which a police officer lost his life.
Why did these two lives turn out so differently? There are many reasons, but the influence of teachers at pivotal points made critical differences. As the author Wes Moore points out, the ability of educators to take an interest in young people—to care, to truly care—is what makes the difference. I believe that many of you feel the same way. We as educators can influence whether people end up in corporate boardrooms or prisons. We can make our classrooms and learning environments nurturing places where students feel their teachers really know their lives’ stories and appreciate their challenges. We can create classrooms that help our students excel. That is the power educators have and exercise every day. E. M. Forster once said, “One person with passion is better than 40 people who are merely interested.” Each of you graduating today has the power to be that person with passion, that person who influences the next generation of Wes Moores to lead productive lives.
I have a caution for you about this wonderful profession we have chosen: there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done we want to accomplish for our students. There are lessons to prepare, student work to grade, parents and students and colleagues who need our time and attention. There will be times when you may wonder how buttoning a kindergartner’s coat day after day or correcting the same error on a middle schooler’s paper for the fifth time is going to influence their future lives, but you will realize your influence once you see that 5-year-old’s warm smile, or that letter years later from that middle schooler about her appointment to a job at NASA. You will know in those moments that you did indeed contribute to those lives. You will be proud and rightfully so.
But it’s very important also that you build a life beyond work that makes sense. Search for friends who will bring you joy and laughter. Find people you love—and who will love you. In the end, our lives are made up of moments, and the moments we remember most are the ones shared with the people who are most important to us.
Lastly, honor this institution and the impact it has had on you. You can do that by speaking well of it, by staying connected with the friends you’ve met here, and by coming back here as proud alumni. I encourage you to take time to give back of your time and your talent.
I want to end by telling you that only one in one million people in the world have a college degree. Today you achieve what only one in one million have done – you graduate from this wonderful place with a college degree.
Congratulations to graduates, your families, and this college and its School of Education that have given us all great opportunities. Go forth!
(Posted: May 17, 2014)