Tag Archives: students

The Title Of My Commencement Address? Sixty-Nine.

(Taking Mary Schmich up on her commencement speech challenge given years ago, here is my speech. Can’t wait to read yours!)

Sixty-nine.

Are you giggling? Are you shifting in your seat uncomfortably? Are you looking around, wondering why some of your fellow graduates are twittering?

A private, or not-so-private joke. In the classroom, whenever I’d say “Turn to page 69” or “The answer is 69” giggles always erupted. I’d nod, or smile feebly and say, with a twinge of sarcasm, “Yes, that’s a new one on me! You got me there!”

But that didn’t matter. You still thought you were the first class to laugh. You still thought you were the first to get the joke. You still thought I had no idea what you were giggling about.

And here we are, on your graduation day.

Giggling about sixty-nine.

Why is the Year of the Four Emperors so funny? 69 AD. The year that Galba, Otho, Vitellius and finally Vespasian ruled the Roman Empire after Nero’s suicide. A time of great turmoil, anarchy and unrest.

Sixty-nine. The atomic number of Thulium. A rare metal. Used for radiation.

Psalm 69. “I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait.” How many of you felt waiting for exam grades to be posted.

Jared Allen. Jersey number 69. Defensive End for the Minnesota Vikings.

69%. Just under a passing grade at many schools.

Rotate this amazing number 180 degrees and it’s still 69.

So many ways to view a simple number. A year. A jersey number. A prayer.

My view. Your view. The person-next-to-you’s view. As individual and unique as a fingerprint.

You were all taught the same material. You all studied the same things. But you each took away from it something that is unique to you and your experiences. After learning it, you each applied it in different ways. Some created advantage with the material. Some disregarded it. And others let it get the best of them.

You will leave this institution and go on to do other things. Notice that I didn’t say “better” things. Because some of you won’t. Some of you will choose not to use the tools provided. You will rest on your laurels and wonder why the guy next to you has it so good. You will sit back and view life in a limited way.

The choice is yours. You can choose to do great things. You can choose to better yourself and your surroundings. You can choose to view things differently. You can choose to create good in your life.

It’s all in the way you look at things.

If you take away one thing from your educational experience let it be the ability to look at things in a new way. A better way. A more enlightened way.

A glyph for the zodiac sign of Cancer. A percentage. ’69 – The year of Woodstock.

Now when you hear the number 69 it will have more than one definition for you. You will be reminded to view things from a different angle. You might challenge yourself to discover more definitions for the number 69.

And you might giggle. Because you know something the next guy doesn’t.

It can be our private joke.

(Thanks to SubWow at Absense of Alternatives  for pointing me in the direction of this awesome cause and the prize for this week’s commencement address challenge! Simply link your speech in the comments section of this post and one of my darling children will randomly draw a name/speech from a hat. Good luck and thanks for playing!)

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Filed under Ponderings, Soapbox

Overcome

I know there are going to be a lot of posts like this today. Forgive me for adding to the surplus. But I’ve never written this down before and I think of this event and how it applies to my teaching career often, especially today.

In my parent’s generation everyone knows where they were when JFK was assasinated. My generation knows exactly what they were doing when 9/11 happened.

I was driving to class. The radio set to my favorite alternative rock station. They cut into the song they were playing and began discussing what was happening in New York. They didn’t always have the best taste with their jokes and that’s exactly what I thought this was. A joke. A really BAD joke. I actually stopped to think: wait, is this April Fool’s Day? No. It’s September. This is in such poor taste. I’m writing the station. And then the female disc jockey started to cry. I knew it was real and I was stunned.

I raced to my classroom and plugged in my laptop. Yes. It was true. My students started filing into class. The news had already spread. We were a “laptop” school. Every student had their own. They were racing in to plug in their laptops. Every one worked together. One student starting organizing which news sites each student would scan, looking for the most up to date information. I didn’t stop it. I let it unfold. They worked together trying to understand what was going on.

 Then it started to sink in. One student’s dad was a pilot. Another’s uncle was a congressman. Another had an aunt that worked at the Pentagon. Many had family that worked or lived in NYC. It hit me. My sister traveled for a living.  Students began asking permission to use their cell phones to call home. I snuck a call to my sister. Her plane had been grounded. She was stuck in Milwaukee. But she was safe.

The administration stepped in and asked that everyone shut down their computers. The information coming in was too disturbing. It was a very organized chaos but  parents began picking up their kids from school early. Our school was PreK – 12. My daughter was just two buildings away and all I wanted to do was hold her. But I had to stay with my students that were left.

Later that night, after we put our daughter to bed my husband and I stood on our deck outside, talking. Or not talking. We were still in shock. But the thing I remember most about that night was how eerie and quiet and still our city was. We couldn’t hear the usual planes or trains. It was still relatively early and no cars were going down our usually busy street.

I’m glad I missed much of the video coverage that later was edited. Falling bodies. Thuds on top of cars and pavement. I watched it later, years later in a documentary. I was able to handle it better then.

To handle this great tragedy my students came up with a brilliant idea. We had just had a discussion how certain songs trigger memories. They decided to create a cd to memorialize 9/11. Each student chose a song that reminded them of 9/11. Songs like: In a New York Minute, I Believe, Everybody Hurts, I Will Remember You, Only in America, Imagine. They worked after school creating cd covers, burning the cds for each student to take home. It was an amazing, healing project. I still have those cds. And I play them every year at about this time. To remember the fallen. To remember those who survived. To remember my sensitive, thoughtful, students. To remember the amazing heroes that were born that day.

So many people criticize our teenagers as self absorbed. Selfish. But in my kids I saw vulnerable, sensitive, caring young people. And in 2001 they channeled that energy and created something truly worth cherishing. I dedicate this post to them.

A song that has stood out for me is posted below. I never imagined I would witness such tragedy in my lifetime. I had always felt so safe in my country. I was so thankful that I didn’t live anywhere else. But on 9/11, I was overcome with so much fear, sadness. Simply overcome.

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Filed under How We Roll, Music, Soapbox, Teaching

They’re just words!

To educate

“Well, I don’t get what the big deal is. They’re just words!” I was floored. I was a teacher at a small private school. Teaching World Literature. We were studying Dante’s Inferno out of Norton’s Anthology of World Literature. Three students turned in papers quoting, verbatim, sections of the editor’s comments that introduced the work. Word for word. 10thGraders. Been writing papers for about 6 years now. Introduced to the concept of plagiarism many times. We discussed it ad nauseum in a lecture I gave. We even worked on exercises together, explaining how to footnote, how to use the MLA method, how to quote within your paper. And clearly, in bold, at the bottom of the assignment sheet, handed out when the paper was first assigned, was typed: “Plagiarism = O”

I couldn’t have been more clear.

But still it happened. The repercussions are simple, right? A zero to each offender. Nope. Two of the three students were board member’s children. A zero could not be “given” to a board member’s child. Whether she earned it or not. Unacceptable. The head of our Upper School questioned me. “Maybe you weren’t clear about just what plagiarism really is.” The Headmaster called a meeting with the parents and me to “sort all of this out.” I was stunned. The infraction was as clear as day. The proof irrefutable.

I received threatening phone calls from a board member’s wife. She’d have my job before her daughter “earned” a zero. One of my colleague’s called me stubborn. And then a parent of a child that wasn’t even involved called me for a conference. Prepared to talk to her about her son’s progress (he was doing beautifully) we sat down. All she wanted to talk about was this “silly business” about plagiarism and she wanted to know why in the world these girls were in so much trouble. I told her this was between me and the girls. She wouldn’t back down. I told her, “Well, for one thing it’s stealing.” “Stealing what?” she asked. I said, “Another person’s thoughts, opinions, words.”

“Well, I don’t get what the big deal is. They’re just words!”

I don’t have much of a poker face. My jaw must have dropped to my knees. There was no reasoning with her. And I sat there thinking, I get it. These entitled, privileged people, used to getting their way, used to sneaking ideas by bosses to get ahead. They just won’t get it. Words don’t have a monetary value to them. And that’s how it has to be explained to them. With a dollar sign. So just like Martin Luther King in his “I Have A Dream” speech laden with monetary references I explained copyright infringements, how being published is like a patent. She nodded slightly and said, “ohhhhh.” But I don’t think she really got it.

Bottom line? Precious Suzy doesn’t cheat. Precious Sally doesn’t fail. But I fought to keep the zero grade and thanks to an incredibly supportive department head it stuck to their precious grade reports. Needless to say, the rest of the school year was a living hell. I received no respect from the parents and as a result that attitude trickled into the classroom and spread like an insidious virus to the other students.

Words are a precious commodity. Especially when combined to create new and intelligent, thought provoking opinion. Protect your words. Protect the words of others. Respect their value.

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Filed under Plagiarism, Teaching