1. First, I want to pay tribute to Mrs. Florence Johnson, Director of Student Support Services
a. Mrs. Johnson & I have been colleagues and friends for 33 years.
b. She is one of the most committed and caring educators I have ever worked with.
c. Her sphere of influence for the betterment of students knows no bounds;
--from being a teacher of children with special needs at Campus West School, to serving on the Buffalo Public Schools’ Board of Education (including stints as its president), to her work with Student Support Services here at Buffalo State College—Florence Johnson has been an advocate and worker for equal educational opportunity for students of all ages and all backgrounds. In recognition of her years of dedication to student success and community growth, Mrs. Johnson will be inducted into the WNY Women’s Hall of Fame on March 13. Please join me in a round of applause to recognize that honor.
d. I am honored that she invited me to speak to you today. The list of speakers at previous programs to recognize academic excellence of students associated with Support Services has been a distinguished list. I am pleased to be thought of along with those people.
2. Mrs. Johnson instructed me, something she has always done ever since she’s known me, to do 3 things:
a. Be brief,
b. but convey words of encouragement and wisdom
c. And don’t forget to be brief!
3. My comments today stem more from my role as a father than from my role as professional educator; although completely separating the two is probably impossible. But I want you to understand that the comments I’m about to share with you are comments I have shared with my own daughters as they were preparing to attend college and as they proceeded through their college experiences. My daughters are nice people who have done well; NOT because they are gifted or geniuses…because they aren’t. They have become successful because they took the advice my wife and I gave them about what they needed to do to experience success. They graduated with honors from undergraduate school. One has since received her law degree from one of the top 25 law schools in the country and passed the bar exam on her first attempt in both Virginia and Washington, DC. A second daughter is in a master’s program in organizational psychology and management. And our third daughter is an artist, environmentalist, and advocate for social causes. My message to you today is that all of you possess the same capabilities my daughters possess. The question is will you continue your pursuit of academic excellence so that you too can attain academic success and in turn, a life’s work that you enjoy?
4. The advice my wife and I gave our children was:
(1) to work hard;
(2) be serious about becoming better educated;
(3) make the most out of every opportunity that college affords you even when an instructor or class is disappointing; and
(4) pursue excellence…NOT perfection, but excellence. Push and stretch yourself to become better accomplished and a nicer person. Only accomplished people, who are also nice, are truly successful. Rogues, thieves, and exploiters may be able to acquire material wealth, but truly successful people are those who pursue excellence while also acting with generosity, kindness, and a concern for the well being of others in addition to themselves.
5. Position yourself to have options in life. Options provide greater opportunities for attaining a higher quality of life and options allow you to grow and develop in many directions. So take an extra course or enroll in a minor or second major so that you position yourself to be more knowledgeable and more worldly as you proceed through life. Don’t always search for the easy route; stretch yourself and reach higher NOT simply to make more money, but, to quote the old army recruitment slogan and Buffalo State ideal;---stretch yourself so that you can become all you are capable of becoming!
6. So what seem to be the “keys” to accomplishing this type of success; this level of excellence? I think the important points are simple, well known, but not always easy to adhere to.
a.Be a nice person…to others and to yourself! This was the first lesson our children were taught and one which we still remind them to value and pursue.
b. Work hard; you have to push yourself. It takes some of us longer than others to get the work finished, but so what? If you have done it well, it is still excellent.
c. Have clear priorities; identify and order the things in your life that are most important right now; and write those down and keep them where you can see them everyday. It’s easy to lose sight of our goals when everyday exigencies divert our attention. You may be familiar with the adage that says “It’s hard to remember the objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your waist in alligators!” Keep your goals in sight even when distractions come along. (Cite the research.)
d. Be able to delay gratification; vegetables before dessert; completion of work before play. Sometimes this is difficult to do when all those around you are indulging their fancies before finishing their work. But this is a critical measure of maturity and self-discipline. It may also help you decide who to hang out with.
e. Create a support network to assist you when needed; ask peers to form study groups (law school); and as needed, continue to use the wonderful people and resources of our Student Support Services Program
f. Pay attention to life; know what is going on and what is expected; don’t be hesitant to ask questions so that you know what is required for success in your courses. Don’t expect your professors to do your work for you, but expect that if you demonstrate interest and effort, most professors will gladly assist you when needed.
So there you have it. Nothing you probably have not heard before. But as a proud father, I can attest to how these values and behaviors can lead to success, and excellence, and to more options for how you can enrich your life.
In the February 2008 issue of The Mentor, the Student Support Services newsletter, Mrs. Johnson quotes the great W.E.B. DuBoise. The quote reads:
Be clear about your goals and be prepared to sustain the hard work that makes the difference between mediocrity and excellence. I trust that as you have done so far, you will continue to pursue excellence.
“Believe in life! Believe that you as a human being have the capacity to live and progress to a greater, broader and successful life, complete with fulfilling your educational goals.”
Congratulations to all of today’s honorees for your accomplishments to date and congratulations also to your families and friends whose support we all need to reach our life’s goals. Best of luck for another successful semester.