Graduation Speech 2014

This past week I had the honor and privilege of speaking for my peers during our HESA Program graduation ceremony. I had several requests for the final quote of the speech so I decided to post the whole text of my speech here. 

A word of caution: this is the raw speech notes. I read directly from these notes and I used capitalization and font to guide where I placed emphasis. I haven't edited the text to make for easier reading. 

Not long after I was elected to give this speech one of my fellow cohort member came up to me and said “YOU SHOULD LET MINDY GIVE THIS SPEECH!” ….For those of you who don’t know Mindy is my wife of two years. We married 5 days before moving to Florida to start this program. Even though Mindy has no institutional connection to this program beyond being legally bound to me YOU COULD EASILY BUILD A CASE THAT SHE IS WWWAAYYYY MORE POPULAR THAN I AM. So popular in fact that my colleagues have begun apologizing for the obvious lack of enthusiasm that is shown when I show up to social events without my partner….

…Now that I am looking out and seeing so many familiar and unfamiliar faces I’m starting to wonder if that suggestion wasn’t a bad idea.

Last week the New York Times introduced the newest section of their website  entitled “The Upshot.” In do so the New York TimesThe Times joins a growing media trend attempting to wed traditional commentariate editorial journalism with big data analysis and predictive data mining. Anther great example of this trend is Nate Silver’s 5-30-8 media enterprise. Which was incredibly accurate in predicting the 2008 presidential election season.

So after browsing The Upshot and experiencing the supreme satisfaction of looking at a graph illustrating the positive association between polling data and an a incumbent senate candidate’s chances of reelection…..and more importantly understanding exactly what the graph was trying to communicate I had a startling realization.

This realization went something like this: “Uh – Oh… There is NO DENYING THE FACT…I’m a Nerd.” What is a nerd? If you google “define nerd” you get two definitions:

1: “a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious”  2: “a single minded expert in a particular field”  ……It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The reality is –  we’re all nerds now … NO REALLY … for all the collective groaning under the weight of research projects and literature reviews we find ourselves sitting here as single minded experts in a particular field, specifically, student affairs. A greater dispositional shift has occurred.

 What does this shift look likeWhat are the implications? Simply put:, “All of our future ideas will come with a built in literature review.”

Any future assumptions about whether or not we did a good job went or how well we articulated our ideas will be followed by a nagging urge to get some numbers or perhaps transcripted interviews to ensure it REALLY WAS a good idea or REALLY WAS a well organized event… like an itch that needs to be scratched.

Any factotum or opinion thrown out by a colleague will be accompanied by a whisper in the back of our minds that says “really? …Can you show me the data that supports that claim.?” Lets be real…it will probably be in the voice of Dr. Cox.

Most importantly our most cherished thoughts and beliefs will be properly formatted and cited according to the APA style Handbook…6th edition. TBJ will be proud.

So, bringing this whole reflection back to the New York Times and media trends, I think there is a new found power in being able to say “That subject or prediction is  all fascinating, well and good, but HERE’s WHAT’S  REALLY GOING ON.” This program has certainly filled that role for us. College attendance and student life….its all fascinating, well and good, HERE’s WHATS REALLY GOING ON.” Intellectual development….thats all fascinating well and good but HERE’s WHATS REALLY GOING ON.

 This program has given us a deeper understanding of what happens when students enter these hallowed halls of learning and how we facilitate their individual development. We now walk around with the satisfaction of knowing that when it comes to college student development and growth we understand WHATS REALLY GOING ON.

But lets not forget what brought most of us here in the first place. I would venture to say confidently that few entered this field because of a strong desire to one day successfully interpret a graph that illustrates positive or negative correlation. NO, most of us ended up here because someone, somewhere said “Hey, I believe in you.” Or “Hey, your going to do great things on this campus.” Something in that interaction stirred our passions or gave us the confidence to put ourselves out there and risk failure to achieve an impact. We then decided we wanted to facilitate those same conversations with others.

I think we should always be grateful and continue to push our understanding of the theories and methodologies that help us tell the rest of our campuses “Hey, [that student behavior:] HERE’S WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON.” But I hope that each of us continues to hold tight to those first interactions we had with administrators when we started college.

 I’m going to take a little bit of a risk and assume that if I were to ask some of our esteemed faculty and senior administrators present if they knew exactly when a student was going to be transformed by their work they would say no. Those life changing moments, the ones we cherish so deeply, aren’t statistically predictable. You never know how your intentional interaction with a student is going to transform their life. So hold tightly to your own memories of transformation. When the work gets hard they’ll serve as a vital reminder of the significance of why we do what we do.


You were here. Before anyone else saw our potential you were there to catch us when we fell and encourage us to get back up.


There’s no going back. Your continual examples of professionalism and your actions that embody what it means to care for students will serve as a constant reminder and challenge that we can do better…that we can be more for our students.

Let it never be said that those who can’t do teach. The fingerprints of your scholarship, wisdom, and perspective will mark our work for the rest of our careers. Every time a future supervisor looks at us and says “wow, that was a really good job” please know that the seeds of that success were sown by you.


And finally for my classmates. I can’t think of a better group to start off on this adventure with than ya’ll. You truly are my LifeNet.

Final quote: “Our world is like a giant spider web. If you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling.... As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web atremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked. No one is an island...."

–Frederick Buechner.