Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Graduation Speech

It was important for me to put together this message because the response I often get from people when I tell them about my doctoral studies is one of surprise. "Oh my gosh that's incredible", and while I'm humbled to have reached this milestone, the message that I want to share with all of you is that my journey is not in any way incredible or special, but instead the inevitable outcome when you match passion with a strong support system. My own network consisted of parents, who were career educators with advanced degrees, teachers like Lois Hamilton in 1st grade and my doctoral sherpa, Megan Franke who never let me rest on my laurels, swim coaches, church deacons, fraternal brothers,

and parents of peers who taught me discipline, maturity, and respect. If education is to return to prominence in this country, it will not just be the result of some miracle policy, but instead from everyone taking an active role in the support network of one or more students. My fellow graduates, as we celebrate the completion of our programs today we must not shy away from the responsibility of making a mark on the field of education by impacting the lives of students on a daily basis. We live in an increasingly skill-based economy, so with that in mind, our research and our practice need to reflect the best of what is working to engage youth in learning and developing literacies that will be useful in a global context.

This preparation is no easy task in schools that more and more look and operate like prisons. Financial resources are being misappropriated or not appropriated at all, students are being bullied in new and complex ways, and the pressure to meet standardized test benchmarks only grows. Not to mention that "Last In First Out" policies, which sacrifice talented young teachers for more veteran educators, are a reality. What's at stake however is more sobering. The private prison industry is booming, and the demand for future prisons is being determined by elementary test scores. Add to this that graduation rates in CA for Black and Hispanic males hover around 50% and that dropouts are almost 4x more likely to be arrested and it becomes evident that our schools are doing a better job producing future inmates who can be exploited as a cheap labor force than future leaders.

As an early career educator, this is a challenging context to enter, but you must remember that you are not alone. When it all seems so overwhelming, that you are ready to quit, I encourage you to remember what you have built here. Remember your friend, Paolo Freire and his dedication to the oppressed, or Sonia Nieto and her ideas for educating youth from differing ethnic backgrounds, John Dewey who believed in the public school as a community anchor, or W.E.B DuBois who outlined the blueprint for what Black children in particular need educationally. Remember the network of UCLA professors who have prepared you, and that they are forever a part of your network.

When I received my BA and was looking to become a teacher, after realizing that I was hard-wired to be an educator and that pre-med was not for me, I immediately enrolled in a Masters program while also working as a teaching assistant. A couple years into the program, I got my first lead teaching position, and there was a part of me that said, "You accomplished the goal, forget the rest of that Masters program. How much debt are you willing to take on for this?" But the support system, said “Keep going, there's a bigger plan for you.” When I moved to California shortly after finishing my Masters, I applied to UCLA because I had fallen in love with the work Danny Solorzano was doing around Affirmative Action in education. I wanted to have an impact on education on that level, and Dr. Solorzano was even gracious enough to sit down with me. When I got my rejection letter, part of me said "Well maybe you're just supposed to be a teacher, the work of the classroom is fulfilling enough" But again the support network kept pushing. And then I met Megan Franke, and when she said apply again, I listened. So when I tell you that to develop and maintain a support network in education is vital, I speak as one who has benefited and continues to benefit from those relationships. Not only have I been pushed and held accountable by my support network, my advisors were the same ones who worked with me when Isaiah Obiesie Carroll entered this world in November of my first year as a graduate student. I can honestly say I would not be here if I had been left to my own devices because I would not have been able to see what the big picture held. At the end of the day, education is about relationships that turn into communities where learning is the outcome. I wish you all the best in entering, creating, and sustaining such communities with the support of your networks.

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