Theology & Education Valedictorian Speech

Spring Convocation 2009

Your Honour, Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen; on behalf of my fellow graduates, I welcome you all. We, the approximately 275 graduates from the Education faculty, are honoured to share this celebration with graduate students in Theology—a Faculty with roots going back to 1871 and one which is a pioneer in graduate studies.

A time like this gives us pause for reflection… the fact that we are here today, donning caps and gowns that represent our final stage of this journey, is a remarkable achievement and we are deeply indebted—not just monetarily—to the University of Winnipeg for our having reached this destination. Mostly, we are grateful to the excellent professors and instructors—many who devoted extra hours to make us better at what we do, and who inspired us to reach for the stars. Above all, we are grateful to our relatives who have cheered for us along the way. Thank you for your support, and for your investment in our future.

What does this achievement mean for us, not only as graduates, but as professionals, now that we have reached this milestone? For many of us, becoming teachers has been a life-long dream. We will no longer feel like subordinates, working under the watchful eyes of cooperating teachers. Now, we will have the liberty to implement the ideas that we tested in our practicum without the impediment of having to hand in lesson plan after lesson plan after lesson plan while waiting for feedback from an advisor. We have all become professionals and we will uphold the teaching covenant. The Education Faculty has prepared us for this career; however, the years spent learning the trade have also provided us with more than just education and training to become the best in the field.

Personally, I am deeply grateful to our university. When I began my Education studies five years ago, graduation seemed like an impossibility. The last time I wore a gap and gown was in 19(mumble). Actually, it was in 1988. In 2004, I was accepted into the Winnipeg Education Centre, also known as WEC, the University’s ACCESS education program directed by Phil Baker and supported by Dr. Ken McCluskey, our innovative, creative, and much-appreciated Dean. This progressive branch has produced great educators since its inception in 1973, and I’m a proud “Weccie”… and I’m delighted to represent you at this, the inaugural Education convocation—the first to be held separately from that of Arts and Science. I’ve also had the privilege of editing the Education Students’ Anthology three separate terms, of working as a research assistant, and of working here on campus at the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. The Education Faculty has given me space to learn, to hone my teaching skills, and to work.

I’m certain the same is true for many of you. You have had opportunities to work as research assistants, markers, coaches, mentors, writers for The Uniter, and staff in various departments on campus. This university proved to be more than just a school; it’s been our home, our community, our livelihood.

During our time here, many of us distinguished ourselves both academically and civically. Many strove to attain high GPAs, and we participated in social events and rallies. We studied important world issues, from the Holocaust to Critical Pedagogy, and learned curriculum subjects such as Mathematics and Science, Drama and Social Studies … and, certainly, we can’t forget Art. Some graduates had the exceptional opportunity to enrich their program culturally by completing their practicum in Thailand, Greece, Costa Rica, China, or France. The courses we have taken and the practicum placements we have undertaken have equipped us with the only kind of power worth having: the power to change lives.

After today, our reflections will begin to drift onto Memory Lane. We will be left with the memories of many sleepless nights and writing essays the day before the due date while sipping on a concoction of Red Bull and coffee, then falling asleep in class the next day. We’ve all come to know the meaning of “teaching” in various ways. The Thailand teachers are likely the most flexible of us all, practicing mai pen rai daily (which means “no worries”), even when treading through flood waters to work. Some of us lived in the “buffeteria” to work on group projects; Section 151 bonded ever so uniquely; others valiantly overcame almost insurmountable challenges while studying and raising families; and we all forged friendships that have enriched our time in university in so many ways.

Without a doubt, we will leave this university knowing that the friendships we have formed on campus are lasting and true. We came here as students; we leave here as friends and as professional colleagues—as educators who know that being a teacher is “not an occupation that exists within you only when you are on location. Being a teacher permeates every fibre of your being all of the time. It is something that never leaves you” (Kathy Swope, 2004, educator and author of Failing our Kids: Why the Testing Craze Won’t Fix Our Schools). Many of us will work together in schools one day, and we may meet again at PD sessions or at SAG. For those of you who choose a different path, one that takes you away from the business of teaching, I wish you equally meaningful and successful endeavours.

Indeed, this is a moment in time to treasure. As you leave here today, remember what you set out to do when you began your educational journey. What marks the end of your journey today is merely the beginning of a new one tomorrow.