The Best Prize

I graduated from the University of Oklahoma in December of 2017 and had the unique privilege of being the convocation speaker. I took the opportunity to share with current and future educators the importance of our profession and the challenges our state is currently facing. Below is my speech, I wanted to share it here. You can also listen to it here on YouTube starting at 16:55.

Convocation Speech

Faculty, family and friends, the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, graduates of 2017.

I am truly honored to be standing before you today, not only as a representative of this incredible college but also as a representative of this incredible profession.

For many of you the completion of this degree means the beginning of your career and I am thrilled to be welcoming you to the profession. As I, myself, have entered into my tenth year as an Oklahoma educator, I can tell you that this is the most rewarding and challenging work. I commend you for choosing such a noble profession and I challenge you to be a tireless advocate for education, to build lifetime relationships with your future students and their families, and to give the community you serve your best every day.

For some of you the completion of this degree means that you are entering into a new chapter of your professional career. You have learned and experienced more through the attainment of this new degree: share more, mentor a new teacher, pour into the younger generation of educators who will later be the leaders of our profession, they need you and all that you have to offer with your knowledge and experience.

Graduates, as we leave the University of Oklahoma and find our place in the world and in education, we should reflect on the lessons we have learned here and how they have and will continue to shape us as educators:

First, there is no greater gift than education. It furthers our society, takes us to new horizons, and grows our communities. As educators we become a part of that movement. Unfortunately, we are in a time where the trend is towards blaming educators in attempts to dictate a dialogue that our schools are no longer succeeding. However, I would argue against this discourse. Every year educators achieve more with less, we love the communities we serve, and give to our students and their families of ourselves, both financially and emotionally. We educate all students. We educate all students; meeting them where their needs are and growing them to their full potential in less than one year. Further, educators understand that our students are more than a performance on a test and that the value of a quality education cannot be measured on a single day of a school year. We implement legislation that doesn’t always make sense and we consistently persist in the face of the harsh realities that is our current atmosphere. Great educators are creative and our ingenuity is building the citizens of tomorrow in today’s classrooms.

Second, no one achieves in isolation. Each of us, just by being here today, represents a community that has poured into us. For me, this list includes a supportive spouse, loving parents, friends, and family members. Educators know the value of having a community that supports their professional growth. As an educator, I have been fortunate to have a number of mentors who have taught me what it means to invest in others, fellow teachers who encouraged and supported me when teaching was hard because teaching is hard; a principal who has encouraged me to take risks and has pushed and supported me through new endeavors; and an advisor who has taught me the importance of thinking critically and helped me to find my voice as an advocate. Educators, do not work alone, this profession is not for the faint of heart and we need one another for our own success and most importantly for our students’ success. Further, we must always remember how others have supported us to where we are today and be forever grateful of the ways in which they have empowered us to be leaders in our field.

Lastly and most importantly, we must remember why we chose education. Education is a calling. I have always believed that. For me it was a calling when I met my first class of students; it has been a calling with every relationship I have built with my students and their families; it was a calling the first time I realized I had students living with food insecurity; it has been a calling every time I have taught a student to read or understand a difficult math concept; it was a calling when I watched a student pass away after years of battling brain cancer and it was a calling when I explained to his classmates and their families why he would no longer be attending our class; it was a calling when I chose to attend countless sporting events, birthday parties, and cultural celebrations of my students to build relationships and community with the families I served; and it was a calling when I became a kinship foster parent to a student who would later call my house his own home. We may not fully understand the extent of our calling when it chose us but nonetheless it calls us. Great educators are compelled to do great things for their students because we are called.

I will leave you with this, President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” – I can think of no greater work worth doing than education and I can think of no better people to do this work with.

Congratulations Class of 2017 and Live on University!