Wheelock 2012 Commencement Speech Excerpts
For the first time, Wheelock held separate Commencement Ceremonies for graduate and undergraduate students on May 11, 2012. Read the texts of the Commencement speeches below or visit the Video Gallery to watch videos of both ceremonies and the individual speeches.
Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony
Good Morning and welcome to the 124th Wheelock College Commencement Ceremony. It is now my pleasure to introduce Wheelock College junior Keneisha Milton who will open this Commencement Ceremony with a special invocation tribute to our graduating seniors.
Thank you so much Keneisha for your wonderful tribute to our graduating seniors.
Our 2012 Commencement is being held in this beautiful sanctuary of our neighbor Temple Israel. This is our fifth year at Temple Israel and we are so grateful to Rabbi Ronnie Friedman and the entire congregation of Temple Israel for their generous hospitality and warm friendship. We couldn't ask for a better alternative to our own campus than here in the historic and beautiful Temple Israel. Please give Rabbi Friedman and the entire Temple Israel Community a rousing Wheelock applause of thanks for their friendship and generosity.
I extend a warm welcome to the family of our graduates. I know that the room is filled with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, other caregivers and family friends. We are so pleased to have you with us as we "bear witness" this milestone accomplishment of our graduates. We are most privileged and grateful to have been a part of your family member's life for the past few years. The entire Wheelock community shares in your pride and happiness on this very special day.
To our remarkable faculty and staff, we thank you and applaud you for the many ways in which you have helped prepare our class of 2012 to enter the professional world of work, to continue their education, or to pursue travel or other learning opportunities. We know that Wheelock is a unique institution not only because of our special calling - to education practitioners and leaders who are committed to our mission of improving the lives of children and families - but also because of you our talented and exceptional faculty. Our students tell us how your close and personal relationship with each of them, your devotion to excellence in teaching and scholarship, and your untiring efforts to help them thrive is truly what makes Wheelock the very special College it is. On behalf of our students, I salute and thank you.
To the Class of 2012 Congratulations! You are graduating at a most historic time in our nation. It is a troubling and uncertain time - full of challenges and yes, full of opportunity. In these most troubling, uncertain, and challenging times you have persisted, you have prevailed, you have overcome adversities and you are here today - graduating. Congratulations! - We honor you and we are so proud of each and every one of you.
And it is during these times of challenge and uncertainty that we appreciate with much gratitude and love the support of family and friends. You are here today having achieved a very significant accomplishment. You set a goal, worked hard, and you achieved your goal. Many, many students cannot make the same claim. I'm sure you can think of several people who started out here at Wheelock with you and are not celebrating with you today. On behalf of the entire Wheelock family, I salute you with warm and affectionate congratulations!
Now the fact of the matter is that you didn't do it alone, you had help and much support: A family member cheering you on, showing up at Wheelock when you forgot or needed something or to see you participate in a college activity; a phone call at just the right moment when you needed to hear a reassuring voice; a faculty member that gave you advice and help with a problem; a classmate who helped you with a difficult assignment or competed more than his or her share of the project. And for those of you who are lucky enough to have someone here today, I ask that you give a symbolic gesture of your gratitude here today, at this your graduation. Please stand and throw a kiss, give a wave, a smile or quietly whisper thank you to that person. Now, please give a wave to all our family and friends who are watching this ceremony across the hall in the Levi conference center or down the street at the Wheelock Family Theatre. Thank you and now please be seated.
Today, we begin a new tradition at Wheelock College - two commencement ceremonies. This morning we celebrate you the Class of 2012 and this afternoon we will hold a separate Commencement Celebration in honor of our students earning graduate degrees. I wish to commend you, the class of 2012 for your persistence and advocacy for this change. You advocated for this change because you wanted your family to be with you here in the sanctuary as your receive you diploma. I applaud your class leaders for the professional way they handled negotiations to accommodate our growing number of graduates. You were professional, respectful, persistent and patient. All qualities that will serve you well in your professional role as advocate on behalf of children and families. Please know that you have made a positive impact on Wheelock College one that will be remembered for years to come.
And your impact has been felt in many other ways. You started new clubs and organizations, you have expanded student service to the Greater Boston community, more of you participated in our New Orleans Service Learning program, and many of you have traveled internationally for service learning. You have raised more money and contributed to local and national non-profit organizations then previous classes. You are kind and sensitive to your fellow students. I was moved by your remembrance of student Brittany Elizabeth Stevens with the dedication of the beautiful rose bush and plaque in her honor and your fundraising efforts on support of Cystic Fibrosis in honor of Brittany. And I learned something about Wheelock from you. I love your affectionate term "Peab's Patch"! I suspect that Peabody Beach will quickly become Peab's Patch!!
Yes, you are leaving your impact on Wheelock College and we can't wait to see and learn about the impact you will make on the world! Our aspiration for you is that you continue to be passionate, competent, patient and persistent leaders. These attributes will serve you well through the many ups and downs of your personal and professional life.
Our 2012 Commencement theme transforming lives through the arts and education celebrates the contribution that arts and culture makes in improving the lives of children and families. We selected this theme in honor of retiring Professor Susan Kosoff and the extraordinary contribution she has made to the College and to thousands of children and families throughout greater Boston. For over four decades, Professor Kosoff has used her special and unique artistic talents in service of the College and the community. In a few minutes, Professors Folsom and Hall will bring a special tribute to Professor Kosoff in celebration of retirement.
Today we honor three exceptional and talented artists who have used their remarkable talent as actor, musician, and writer to transform lives through the arts and education. Each of our honorees, like our beloved founder Lucy Wheelock,, believe deeply I the important of the arts in developing the child. Nearly 60 years ago, Lucy Wheelock wrote about this subject in her book Talks to Mothers. She rejoiced in the child who "has the creative impulse" and wrote chapters on what children learn by being encouraged to be dreamers, artists, actors, singers, and musicians. She asked, "Will you not see the possibilities in your child?"
We believe you; our Wheelock graduates are on a path to advocate on behalf of children and to inspire a world of good. You will live this mission in many ways: onstage and behind the stage, in the boardroom and in the classroom, some of you will write, produce, and act, others will bring your talents and skills to community settings, hospitals, and courtrooms. Some of you will go into elective office while others will help to make public policy. Others of you will be extraordinary homemakers and volunteers. Some of you will become exceptional entrepreneurs and business leaders. Others will serve in many ways that we can't even imagine today.
What we hope is that you will always be advocates on behalf of children and families living out Wheelock mission to improve the lives of children and families. We need more leaders who are committed to service, committed to these important values and ideals whether here in Boston, in this state, in this country and indeed in the world. Our hope is that you leave here empowered with the knowledge and confidence that you can make a difference - you can inspire a world of good. In fact you are destined to make this a better world. With the excellent education and the outstanding opportunities you have received, we also hope you leave here with the courage, the compassion and the commitment to speak truth for what is right and just - it is the way you will inspire a world of good and truly live up to our mission to improve the lives of children and families.
Now, the Chair of our Board of Trustees, Ranch Kimball will bring greetings, followed by Alumni Association Board member, Mr. Gregory Cass, class of 2005.
At this time, I would like each graduate to move his or her tassel to the left side of your mortarboard. The turning of the tassel symbolizes the awarding of a Bachelor's Degree. Congratulations to each of you!
This has been a wonderful Commencement Ceremony. The awarding of honorary degrees to these three exceptional talented artists who are dedicated and passionate advocates for the arts and culture and incredible role models who demonstrate the many ways we can live the Wheelock College mission to improve the lives of children and families. We thank the amazing Jane Alexander for her inspirational message to you, our most remarkable class of 2012. The applause and cheers of your family, friends, and the Wheelock Community acknowledge how proud we all are of your accomplishments during your years at Wheelock. We extend to each of you our very best wishes as you commence into the next phase of your life journey.
Nearly twenty-five years ago, my friend Katherine Taylor published this poem shortly before she died and I share it with you this morning.
Everybody has a gift
God doesn't send empty vessels
'each of us is used
'in a different way
And each gift has it's measure
it's discovery is yet another story
and when you do discover your gift
there are rules they say
it's use promises an increase
not using it is abuse
using it only for yourself
is copping out on your fellow man
all I know is
when you do use your gift
you feel fulfilled
stronger and more aware
and to me that's enough
Katherine S.R. Taylor
As you leave Wheelock College and commence to the next phase of your life journey. We encourage you to use all your gifts in service to making this a better world. It is our hope that you leave Wheelock with the confidence, courage, compassion and passion to use your gifts in service to humankind. It is what we expect of you and it should be no less than you expect of yourselves.
On behalf of the entire Wheelock Community, once again I congratulate each of you, our graduates, your families and friends.
Good morning. President Jenkins-Scott, Trustees, Faculty, students, parents and friends, it is my distinct pleasure to be with you today on the commencement of Wheelock College's undergraduates, the beginning, students, of the next phase of your lives. What an exciting time for all of you! Here you are at last, surrounded by those who have loved and nurtured you through these long years, and look how you have come through! You can take pride in your accomplishments as all of us here today take pride in you and the honor that is soon to be bestowed on you: your certificate of graduation.
Coming back to Boston is always a joy for me. I was born a few miles from here in the Women's Free Hospital as it was then called, delivered into the world by Dr. John Rock, who became one of the inventors of the birth control pill. I grew up in Brookline. My father, who hailed from the windswept plains of Nebraska, got a scholarship to Harvard at 16, and became an orthopedic surgeon at Brigham Hospital and later the doctor for the Harvard Football team. My mother, raised in scrappy South Boston, graduated with honors from Girl's Latin school just across the Fenway and became a scrub nurse for a neurosurgeon. My parents' story is the American Dream personified: two poor kids, 2000 miles apart come together through the dint of their own hard work and grit to excel in the world of medicine. You probably know people who have a similar story, you yourself are perhaps one of them, witness to your own graduation today. To others that dream may seem very far off; the job market does not look promising, owning a house seems unlikely, finding a mate even mores. Well, if Benjamin Franklin noted that the only thing certain in life is death and taxes, I would add that change is also certain. This world is not static and change is constant. I have been around long enough--- although not quite as long as Wheelock at 125 years old--- to have been through the deprivations of the second World War, the boom of the post war 50s, the marches of the 60s, the drug culture of the 70s, the "me" generation of the eighties, into the 90s when many of you were born and on into this year of 2012. Things are cyclical, and although we are in a rough time now, and the disparity between rich and poor, between having resources or not, is great for many on this planet, I have no doubt things will right themselves in the future. One reason I have no doubt about this is because of you here before me. Young people are the wealth of a nation. You have the energy, the ideas, the promise and the hope to accomplish things you have not yet even dreamed of.
Keep in mind we are still in the midst of a cataclysmic change in the way we receive and process information. All the new technologies have had a greater impact exponentially on the dissemination of information and our connectedness to one another than the last seismic shift of the Guttenberg Bible and the printing press 400 years ago. I am still awed by it all. This was not something I ever imagined growing up in a pre-television world. Our technologies then were limited to clunky stationery telephones, and the radio, which my family gathered around on Sunday nights to listen to Jack Benny. Only in science fiction did communication fly through the ether but those science fiction writers envisioned the possibilities and the human brain made it a reality. A case of life imitating art. I am still awed by the miracle of the cellphone---by the immediate and clear voice of my husband when I push a few numbers even halfway around the world. The real impact of this one technological marvel, the cellphone, was brought home to me not long ago when I was birding with some friends in remote mountains in Papua New Guinea. Many of the men there still wore bones through their noses, traded in the currency of pigs and had no written language. An Irish company had just erected towers on the high peaks and given out cellphones for four-month trials. Several of the tribal men mastered the buttons in a matter of hours and were chatting to each other across the village with dexterity and frequency. That little wonder in the palm of their hand suddenly ended a way of life that had prevailed for 1000s of years. Just one cell phone in each village, conveying information, eliminated the need to walk two miles to the next village, something that had been a daily ritual. I wondered how their social life would change. I wondered how they were going to pay for the cellphones when the bill came due----in pigs? And what was so important that they were talking on them so incessantly?---but then I wonder the same thing of my texting granddaughters who are wearing out their thumbs with the need to communicate. Human beings are human beings the world over and a new device has the same power to enthrall everywhere. The New Guineans will never be the same and neither will we with each new technological advance which enters our lives. Progress is to be welcomed, even celebrated; I would not give up my computer or cellphone for anything. And yet, with every advance there is loss. With every hour on line we lose an hour elsewhere---there are still just 24 of them in a day. We are arguably more connected now to each other, to anyone in the world, than we used to be but it is a different kind of connectedness----it is not visceral and three of the five senses are excluded. Touch is reduced to a keyboard, smell and taste are gone altogether and what is left are audial and visual. Playing internet games with opponents who may be in India or Russia and are often known to me only by their screen names and level of skill is no substitute for the memory I have of my father's laughter across the Backgammon board or the sweet smell of his Old Spice aftershave. The quality of music today is extraordinary and with buds in our ears we can shut out the world and be transported but it cannot compare with my memory of singing the Halleluiah Chorus in concert with a hundred other people here in Symphony Hall as I did as a teenager. What I am saying is that we must be alert to losses encountered by new waves of progress; that a virtual world is not a real world although it seeks like a seductive imposter to take its place. We may be preparing the human race to colonize outer space but we're not there yet---we're on planet earth. We must be alert because it takes only one generation to lose a skill, a language, a recipe or an art form. We may be the last generation to know handwriting---many schools do not teach it any more. While we cannot save everything there are things worth saving and human relations, one to one, sharing a meal, a game, a dance, or a walk in the woods is of paramount importance.
The arts are also of paramount importance, perhaps now more than ever. We live in a world of immense distraction and a constant flow of information and we are in danger of neglecting the intuitive and spiritual parts of our being; those parts that bring us in contact with something greater than ourselves, greater than what we think we know. Albert Einstein said" The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Or as historian Daniel Boorstin said "the arts awaken us to our own possibilities." Art begins very early. As babies we are naturals---we sing, dance, and clap. Soon we begin to draw. Our parents and caregivers encourage these things intuitively by singing and reading to us. What differentiates us human beings from all other creatures on the planet is our use of symbols. These symbols have made all forms of communication possible, from simple hand gestures, which convey information and feelings, to the highest forms of binary computations, which have given us the computer, and take us to the stars. The writer, the playwright, and the poet take written language and go one step further into the realm of metaphor and rhythm, integrating intellect, emotion and image. The musician works in the abstract world of sound, tonal and atonal; while the dancer paints pictures with her body in space. It is our use of these symbols and patterns that is the basis of what we call creativity and creativity in art is a uniquely human function. It is probably part of our DNA. Some birds engage in decoration of their nests, some whales sing, and some animals dance in courtship, but no species other than human has painted frescoes, invented the violin, or improvises jazz. We know that art is very old, that it has its roots in mysticism and worship. Although we don't know why the cave painters of Europe 35,000 years ago felt compelled to cover the walls with bison, antelope, and other mammals, we do know that they wanted to make something of beauty ---that is clear in every line, in every graceful stroke of the charcoal. We inherit ritual from our ancestors; we celebrate and mourn through song and the litany of prayer. The arts help us to heal in a wounded time. We honor those we've lost in the memorials of sculptors--- in the new design for the downed twin towers, or on walls of shiny black granite on the Washington Mall to remember our lost ones in Vietnam. As writer Thulani Davis says of the Vietnam War Memorial: "it was the act of an artist, Maya Lin, who understood that every single individual in the society craves the rites of acknowledgment of our heroism, our grief...and...that there are few moments... when someone calls our name." The arts are the soul of a tribe, a people and a nation. And a society that develops intricate forms of art and language celebrates the deepest recesses of the human brain, and leaves a legacy of itself through its art.
The arts are but one arena of creativity, but we are each and every one of us creative human beings; at least we start out that way. Creativity can be defined as problem solving in an innovative way. A business leader may be creative in the structuring of a company, or in the marketing of a product. A teacher may be creative in how she involves her students in a subject. A grandmother might be creative in the pattern of a sweater she knits for her latest grandchild. A scientist can be creative in the lab, an engineer at the drawing board, or a cook in the kitchen. And a basketball player can be creative on the court. Most creative endeavors in life are more easily quantified than are those in the arts. In the sports world winners and losers are tabulated by numbers, in the kitchen the ingredients for a recipe are measured before combining, in the business world a graph tells whether a product is successful or not---whether it is making money or not. The arts are more elusive. You cannot put together the ingredients for a successful outcome in the same way, and some of the most creative individuals never made a dime in their lifetime, the painter Van Gogh for example. Creativity in the arts is deeply intuitive and is received by others in a deeply intuitive way, striking chords in us that are difficult to evaluate. For this reason they are usually the first to go when there is a budget crunch in our schools.
Most nursery and primary schools engage children in the arts, but the arts are often discontinued when they have to buckle down to so called "real learning," the three "r"s of reading, writing and arithmetic and beyond. It is curious because in everyday life we crave music; we crave storytelling through books, TV, computer games and movies. Without these things we feel less than human. Yet we do not foster the critical thinking in the arts necessary to understand and appreciate what we are seeing and hearing. Kids are bubbling with energy and a desire to connect themselves to something meaningful in the world. What is more meaningful to them than the arts and entertainment they engage in outside of school? Most of their knowledge of the world in fact is grasped through the media they tap into: music, TV, and the Internet, but we do not structure enough rigorous learning in the arts as part of the core curriculum. Children are highly creative beings and need artistic endeavors throughout schooling. When a child is taught to sing, she is learning to listen. When we teach her to draw, she is learning to see. When we teach a child to dance, we teach him about his body and about space, and when he acts onstage, he learns about character, emotion and motivation. When we teach a child design, we reveal the geometry of the world. And when we teach children about the folk and traditional arts and the great masterpieces of the world, we teach them to celebrate their own roots and find a place of their own in history. It would be wonderful to see art as the fourth "r" in basic education to encourage creativity, critical thinking and stimulate the imaginations of our children. Our children after all are the wealth of all our tomorrows, and we are depriving them of the imaginative education needed to cope with an increasingly complicated world. Many of you graduates are poised to be teachers. I ask you to think about keeping the arts in education and keeping the arts in your own lives too. The distractions of the new social media, the distractions of all the new technologies can take up so much of your time that you neglect to read a book, or write one, to sing in a choir or listen to one, to paint a picture or go to a museum; you neglect the part of your brain that taps into your most creative thinking. There are many problems to be solved in this vast and wonderful world of ours. I have no doubt you can help solve them. How do you begin to tackle such immense problems? By starting at home, by starting in the classroom. President Jenkins-Scott and I were honored last year with the Eleanor Roosevelt "Following in her Footsteps" Award. Eleanor Roosevelt was one the most remarkable women of the 20th century. Playing her in a television mini series in the mid-70s was one of the greatest roles I was ever given. I learned so much from her life and living. Eleanor Roosevelt said: "Where after all, do human rights begin? In small places close to home."
It is not necessary to try and save the whole world; start small, start one to one and you will be surprised how much is accomplished exponentially in years to come.
There is a story of two fellows walking a beach at low tide. They come upon thousands of horseshoe crabs on their backs stranded at the high tide level unable to get back to the water. The sun is beating down and they will surely die. One of the fellows flips one over so it can crawl away. The other fellow says, "what difference does that make Joe, there are thousands of them." And Joe replies, "Well, it makes a difference to this one."
So go out and make a difference. And remember that change comes about through increments, step by step: one mind connecting with another's mind, one thought connecting with another's thought, one heart connecting with another's heart. You have been given the education here to help you make it happen. Now use the arts to tap into your creativity and your imagination will draw the paths for the future.
Congratulations and best wishes to you all.
Someone told me that this has to be short and funny - since, due to my stature, I have the first part covered, I'll shoot for some funny. I came to Wheelock after dedicating two years of service to the Boston community with City Year. During my time at City Year, I was introduced to the work of Joseph Campbell. This scholar determined that the epicenter of many cultures' myths was the hero's journey. This journey has been portrayed many times - think Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Harry Potter. I believe that every person travels their own journeys throughout their life. Wheelock has been one of our shared journeys.
One of the best parts of my journey through Wheelock has been finding all the other people who care about being the change they wish to see in the world as Gandhi so eloquently put it. Though I think, it's fair to say that's not the first time you've heard this quote. I'm sure, at first, we were all a little nervous about how this whole "college thing" would work. The first step of my journey began when I misread my schedule and thought HGD was only on Mondays; It wasn't until I ran into someone in my dorm who asked why I hadn't come to class that morning that I realized I missed my first college class. I ran to Martha panicked that I had already failed. Of course, I was met with a calm smile that reassured me everything would be fine.
There have surely been many more bumps along the road for each of us; those that made the first seem like a cakewalk. However, I came to realize that Wheelock's values and mine were quite close, and thus many of its students shared my passion to make what Robert F. Kennedy called ripples. I became my most enthused as I entered my education classes and met the other aspiring teachers. They were quirky, serious, intelligent, innovative, kind, and funny, but, above all, they were idealists. I recognized that these people were not here because of the amount of money they would make but because of the impact they wanted to have. I met people focusing on special, early and elementary education. I was inspired because I imagined what a future generation would look like if these were the people leading our classrooms.
However, the connection of students improving the lives of children and families did not end with the education majors. I worked with dedicated juvenile justice, math and science students and read papers from all majors in the Writing Center where this theme prevailed. While working in the Center for International Education, Leadership and Innovation, I watched the many service learning programs fill each semester and even witnessed foreign students flocking to Wheelock. Wheelock is unique. I know there have been times that its "uniqueness" left us frustrated. Nevertheless, we have persevered because this class is impressive.
We are part of a community. A community that loved Sue Mackey, that fought to see changes to this very graduation, and that has aspired to be great. There have been trials and tribulations that each one of us can attest to, but that is indicative of our journey through Wheelock. It is only a true hero's journey if we have to slay a beast (or two). However, we are now embarking on our return. We are arriving from the Mount Doom of RCI, HUM 450s, MTELs, Practicums, Capstones, papers, exams and block schedules. And we will soon begin our next hero's journey.
I may not know each one of you personally, but I know I am inspired to think of the good you will enact as you finish here. If your journey has been like mine, you have not sat passively, but fought to become the best teacher, social worker, advocate, child life specialist, and all the other aspiring professions that will proceed across this stage. I look forward to the day when I will hear of your triumphs in your future journeys. And I hope our journeys may meet again. Due to the nature of many of the types of professionals graduating today (read - possible juvenile lawyers, social workers and child life specialists), I hope to only encounter you under the best circumstances. Though I know, either way, I will be in the best hands. Thank you for all you will do in the future, your ripples; your change will make all the difference.
Graduate Commencement Ceremony
Good afternoon and welcome to the 124th Wheelock College Commencement Ceremony. It is now my pleasure to introduce Wheelock college alumnae Erin Jenkins, class of 2009 and 2012 who will open the Commencement Ceremony with a special invocation in honor of our graduates.
I extend a warm welcome to the families of our graduates. I know that you share in our pride and joy in the accomplishments of our graduates. We are most grateful and privileged to have been a part of your family members' life for the past few years. The entire Wheelock community shares in your pride and happiness on this very special day.
To our remarkable faculty and staff, we than you and applaud you for the many ways in which you have helped prepare our graduates for continued excellent in their professional careers. We know that you are the reason our students selected Wheelock College in pursuit of their professional goals. I now I speak on behalf of our students when I say Thank you very much!
To our students, Congratulations! You have achieved another important milestone in your quest for excellent as a professional. I know that you all have worked hard and overcome challenges to sit in this theater this afternoon. Many of you have worked full time jobs, cared for children and other family members, and overcome many obstacles and challenges. We commend you and applaud you for all of this and more.
Today we begin a new tradition at Wheelock College - two commencement ceremonies. This morning we celebrated the undergraduate class of 2012 at a moving and inspiration ceremony at Temple Israel. This afternoon we honor you our Master degree graduates here on campus in this beautiful theater which has served for over 30 years as the home of the Wheelock Family Theater. I stand on the set of the final Wheelock Family Theater production for this academic year: The Miracle Worker. This fantastic production recounts the inspirational story of teacher and student and shows us how one person truly can change the life of a child by believing in their potential to learn and grow. And by challenging them to excel we see how we each can reach our full human potential. This beautifully executed production reminds us that indeed, by our own action we can create a better work for an individual and by doing us we create a better world for all.
It is also fitting that we hold this our first special Commencement ceremony for Wheelock Master's degree graduates here in the Wheelock Family Theater. Our commence theme transforming lives through the arts and education honors the retirement of professor Susan Kosoff a Wheelock who earned two degrees at Wheelock College. She has been with this college for over 41 years and she truly exemplifies our theme as she has transformed many lives through the arts and education. Please join me in acknowledging and thanking Professor Kosoff for her extraordinary devotion and dedication to the College and to the arts. Thank you professor Kosoff, we will miss you!
Our 2012 Commencement theme also pays tribute to three exceptional and talented leaders in arts and culture. We are proud to announce that this morning the College bestowed honorary degrees on Jane Alexander, the extraordinary actress and advocate for the arts, Kathryn Lasky, noted writer , Wheelock College alum and literacy advocate, and Wintley Phipps talented inspirational vocalist and advocate for children whose parents are incarcerated . We are so pleased that Mr. Phipps will deliver the Commencement address this afternoon.
Our honorees have used their talents as actor, musician, and writer to transform lives through the arts and education. Each of our honorees, like our beloved founder, Lucy Wheelock believed deeply in the importance of the arts in developing the child. Nearly 60 years ago, Lucy Wheelock wrote about this subject in her book Talks to Mothers. She rejoiced in the child who "has the creative impulse" and wrote chapters on what children learn by being encouraged to be dreamers, artists and actors, singers, and musicians. She asked, will you not see the possibilities in your child?".
You our graduates have demonstrated you commitment to the believe by your own life work. You have taken a bold and courageous path to advocate on behalf of children and families and in doing so you too have and will continue to inspire a world of good. You live this mission in so many ways and we are thrilled that you will continue this noble work. We wish you the very best in all your endeavors and look forward with great anticipation and appreciation to the contribution you will make.
From the outset I promise I won't speak long; I learned a long time ago that for a message to be immortal it does not have to be eternal.
My journey into the world of music and the arts had a strange beginning. At the age of fourteen and a half years old I woke up with a bass baritone voice. My career in music and my resume is strangely eclectic. On the same page you'll see Billy Graham Crusades and Saturday Night Live. You'll see the halls of the European Parliament and the great auditoriums of the world; Carnegie Hall; Lincoln Center; Stats Opera in Vienna. You'll see presidential inaugurations and you will see Soul Train.
I have learned in my life that you don't have to compromise to be recognized.
But right from the start I want you to know that those things are not the greatest accomplishments in my life.
Yes I sang at Diana Ross' wedding;
Yes I was in the crowd that welcomed Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison;
Yes I have sung for every President of the United States since Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
But those are not the greatest accomplishments in my life.
The greatest accomplishment in my life is that this black man, with the help of God has provided nurture for my three African American sons, and has worked with all his heart to make their mother the most supremely happy woman in the world. This year we celebrate thirty six years of marriage and I told her if she ever leaves me I'm going with her. She's the only woman I know that has been kissed by the man who loves her on every continent of the world, except Antarctica.
Down in Huntsville Alabama where I went to school at Oakwood College we used to say there's no place like this place so this must be the place. I feel like I'm in the right place this afternoon, and I thank you for making me feel so much at home.
I have spent all my adult life seeking to transform the lives of people through education and through the power of music.
My first real voice teacher was of all people Tom Jones on the radio. My most important voice teacher was Alma Blackmon, for when people contribute to your sense of self-worth and self-esteem they give you more than money can buy.
My musical influences as you can well imagine were men like Paul Robeson, William Warfield and a little bit of Luther Vandross thrown in. I will share with you a little secret; every singer in every song makes mistakes. But the great ones know how to make a stumble look like a pirouette.
My chosen genre of music happens to be inspirational music and without the benefit of managers or agents I have been blessed to be able to do everything an artist could ever dream of.
Duets with Patti Labelle and Melissa Manchester.
I was the last person on this soil to sing Amazing Grace for Mother Teresa before she died.
My life and music has been able to touch people like Natalie Wood, President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.
My performance of Amazing Grace on YouTube has garnered more than 11 million views.
But As I pondered how to use that kind of influence and visibility to help better the lives of the disadvantaged; I found myself 30 years ago on a train from Baltimore to Philadelphia. On that train I met a man by the name of Chuck Colson who went to prison for the Watergate scandal and started what has become the largest prison ministry in the world operating in more than 100 countries.
He began taking me with him into the prisons of America to sing and I was shaken by what I saw.
I did not know that around sixty percent of children who become involved in the criminal justice system come from the children of those who are in prison now.
With the help of Mr. Colson and Prison Fellowship Ministries I started an organization called the U.S. Dream Academy.
We now have after school learning centers in ten cities across America where we tutor and mentor children who have parents that are incarcerated and children falling behind in school.
As we seek to transform their lives through education allow me to share with you a few lessons I have learned.
The two things that are most helpful in breaking the cycle of inter-generational incarceration are:
One: you must increase the density of loving caring adults in the life orbit of children.
We found that especially for young black males, when the family has disintegrated; we have learned that attachment precedes achievement. We have found that young boys who are inspired and motivated by other successful men tend to aspire and achieve.
We have found that it is imperative that they see healthy models of successful males who inspire them to believe in themselves and believe in their dreams.
The second thing we found that helps to break that cycle of intergenerational incarceration is inter-active academic support and access to corrective academic instruction.
Sixty percent of young black males in America who enter high school fail to graduate in four years.
And by the age of thirty, sixty percent of all black boys in America who don't graduate from high school by the age of thirty will be in prison.
Rather than rehearse the grim details of this serious dilemma.
I decided to try and do something about it.
I did not start out to be an activist for equal opportunity in education.
I arrived here on the slow train.
I came here via America's prisons.
I was looking for what can be done upstream to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.
I just decided to go up stream to try and be creative and proactive.
Many years ago in New York City they noticed a disturbing crack suddenly appear on the 42nd floor of a high rise apartment building. The company that owned the building sent for an architect to come and investigate. The architect arrived, and so the manager of the building took the elevator to the 42nd floor to meet him but he couldn't find the architect. He soon found out that the architect was down in the sixth basement. When he found him he said what are you doing down here? Our crack is on the 42nd floor. The architect replied, "sir, you may have a crack on the 42nd floor, but your problem is not on the 42nd floor. Your problem is down here in the basement." As it turned out, a security guard employed in the building wanted to build a garage onto his house, but he didn't have the money. So, every evening before leaving work, he took the elevator to the sixth basement and chiseled out a brick out of the wall, placed it in his bag and took it home. After five or six years of doing this, a crack appeared on the 42nd floor. Friends, a crack has appeared on the 42nd floor of our nation's academic high rise. But our problem is not on the 42nd floor. It's down in the basement, at the foundation.
TODAY graduates of 2012, You who have embraced education as your life's calling; you will leave from this great institution of learning to face a life of untold sacrifices.
You have been called to be repairers of the breach and countless thousands of children across this country are waiting to be taught and inspired by you.
Their lives, futures and destinies will be shaped because of you and I thank you for your commitment to this noble calling. I thank you in advance for all that you will do to improve the futures of America's youth.
Quietly, without fanfare, every day you will confront setbacks and push through them to glorious moments of triumph.
Every day you will chip away at failure and cynicism; and every day; you will incrementally; make America a stronger nation and a better and safer place.
Just don't lose that light of hope and optimism that shines in your eyes.
That's the light that will brighten the face of some child and guide them to a greater future and a brighter destiny.
Graduates you leave here today bound by the rich history of this great institution and bound together by a shared delight; It is the inexpressible joy of seeing children succeed.
There is nothing like it.
As a matter of fact I have discovered that there is a secret gene; one day you will read about it in the scientific journals.
It is a gene that all of you here today have.
It is the HPLP gene. Helping People Live Their Potential.
Helping children succeed is in my genes.
It is part of my DNA.
It is in your genes and part of your DNA.
Helping people live their potential is not an easy calling.
I often reflect on how those old black folk in the south had more sense by accident than some of us have on purpose; what I call down home, plantation wisdom.
I heard an old black lady say once; son, if the mountain was smooth you couldn't climb it.
Educating young people is not a smooth mountain.
We must ever remember why we have been called to this work.
We are seeking to sharpen the minds of our young because it is vital to our success as a nation.
We must ever remind America that an educated populace is still our greatest defense.
No nation can build a prosperous society on a foundation of an undereducated populace.
As you seek to transform the lives of young people through the arts and education, allow me to share with you one final lesson I have learned.
You never get progress or advancement in education unless and until you: Assess; Diagnose; Prescribe and Implement corrective content and corrective measures and strategies.
I did not know that whenever a child receives a bad grade from a teacher, almost never is that bad grade returned with prescriptive resources to help fix the problem they didn't understand, that caused them to get the bad grade in the first place.
It's the only place that we routinely do diagnosis and almost never do a prescription and we call it education.
Our education system will remain broken as long as we continue to use grades for ranking purposes and not diagnostic purposes.
I believe that the personalization of corrective curricula and content is the engine that drives accelerated learning.
And if we are truly serious about accelerated learning in this country we will employ all our resources and all our technology to fuel the true engine of accelerated learning. And that engine is; the personalization of corrective content.
Personalization of corrective content is the key to successful learning.
When your child is having a problem in his or her academics, the first thing you seek for is personalization of diagnostics and corrective academic instruction.
We know how difficult it is in the current teaching learning environment to provide such individualization or personalization in the classroom.
But we have arrived at a time and place where refusing to do this is a luxury we cannot afford.
The personalization of diagnostics and corrective academic instruction will of necessity be the future of education in America.
Those who suggest that in the pursuit of modern mass education that personalization is neither practical nor feasible, I say to them in this global economy personalization is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.
Friends I am a realist who dreams.
I know that there are no panaceas, no magic bullets.
This I do know, building on cracked foundations is a prescription for educational failure and disaster.
Today we have a system of education where access to corrective instruction is not a right. It is a privilege made available to the fortunate few.
I have learned over the years that equal opportunity means nothing without equal preparation and equal preparation is not possible where there is not equal access to excellence in corrective instruction.
Until we provide to all children in America equal access to corrective instruction we will continue to see our nation's test scores plummet.
Until our system of education launches a serious all-out assault on mediocrity in our urban school systems we will not be able to achieve the levels of excellence we as a nation are capable of.
Thank you for your commitment to transform lives and equip children to live their dreams.
You never know whose life you will touch.
As I close allow me to read you something from one of Dr. Martin Luther King's speeches:
We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a healthy nation with one tenth of the people ill-nourished, sick, harboring germs of disease; germs of disease which recognize no color lines and who obey no Jim Crow laws.
We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime.
We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flaunt the central teachings of Jesus' brotherly love and the golden rule.
We cannot come to full prosperity with one great group so ill-delayed that it cannot buy goods. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people.
The spirit of Lincoln still lives;
That spirit born of the teachings of the Nazarene, who promised mercy to the merciful, who lifted the lowly, strengthened the weak, ate with publicans and made the captives free.
In the light of this divine example the doctrines of demagogues shiver in their chaff.
Already closer understanding links Saxon and freedman in mutual sympathy.
America experiences a new birth of freedom in her sons and daughters;
She incarnates the spirit of her martyred chief; their loyalty is re-pledged; their devotion renewed to the work he left unfinished.
My heart throbs anew in the hope that; inspired by the example of Lincoln; imbued with the spirit of Christ, they will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom. And that I, with my brother of blackest hue possessing at last my rightful heritage and holding my head erect may stand beside the Saxon, a negro, and yet a man.
I believe from a child Dr. King was preparing for that moment at the Lincoln memorial all his life because that amazing speech of Dr. King from which I have read just a portion was written and delivered by Dr. King in April of 1944; when Dr. king was only fifteen years old.
Graduating class of 2012, continue to be driven by a vision to transform lives through the arts and education. Continue to be driven to help some young gifted son or daughter rise to greatness and live their potential. You never know whose life you will touch.
Today we commission you to go out to do battle;
Every day you will battle with ignorance and the lack of knowledge;
Every day you will battle with illiteracy;
Every day you will battle with inadequate funding.
Every day you will battle with inadequate skills.
Every day you will battle with imperfection and inefficiency.
Every day you will battle with weariness and family disintegration.
But graduates go out and fight the good fight;
Because, you never know whose life you will touch and transform.
Good afternoon. My fellow graduates and I would like to begin by acknowledging our friends, our family, Wheelock staff, administrators, and trustees in attendance today. Thank you for your presence and more importantly, thank you for your support.
Many of our friends and family in attendance may be on Wheelock's campus for the first time, so we need to inform you that this commencement is unlike any you have attended or will attend. This is because Wheelock is an institution of higher learning that is truly unique. It is unique because of its founder's conviction that early childhood education was the solution to many of society's problems. It is unique in its mission, to improve the lives of children and families. It is unique in its vision of educating individuals to create a safe, caring and just world. It is unique in its values to infuse all of this work with a focus on social justice from a global perspective. Further still, it is a true outlier in that it has retained these ideals since its founding in the face of frequent and sometimes tectonic changes in the world.
This commencement is unique because its graduates are not academics. We are not biologists, or philosophers, or historians. You would be right to respond that thousands of colleges confer professional degrees each year. But we are not lawyers, or accountants. We are not business people, or engineers.
The graduates here today are teachers. We are social workers. We are leaders of non-profit organizations working to fulfill basic human needs.
While the graduates here today have mastered strategies and techniques to make our work efficient and impactful, the greatest lessons we have learned at Wheelock regard the way we approach our work. Because Wheelock is in the business of educating those who work with vulnerable populations it must do so with immense heart and a focused mind intent on instilling its students with the capacity for deep compassion, and a belief in the possibility of change. Our Wheelock education has made us capable of overcoming any professional challenge because it cultivates a mindfulness in its graduates by teaching us how to listen and learn, how to be an asset of strength, and agent of change, to the children and families we work with daily.
Many colleges and their commencement speakers will marvel about how the world has changed as in "Things used to be like such and such but now they are like so and so." But what they mean by change is advancement. Wheelock graduates, being famously conscientious, are not naive enough to admire change in and of itself. We know that advancement without access creates disparities. We chose Wheelock to equip ourselves with the tools to address inequalities and through our work we strive to find the means of creating a more just society. So long as there are children to teach, families that struggle and organizations that exist to address these issues, Wheelock will continue to be of vital importance to doing the "right" and doing it well.
I know as we embark to continue our work and engage others in the "Wheelock Way", that the world will forever be better in large and small ways and that our capacity for inspiring a world of good is limitless.
As far as we carry ourselves, we carry Wheelock as a part of us and this should remind us that we do not venture alone, but rely on each other to blaze a path towards a world of more plentiful good.