Monday, May 22, 2017

My Student's Commencement Speech

Meghan Blackwood was a secondary English student in my student teaching seminar this semester at Mercy College's Manhattan campus. Our college finds that mixing secondary and elementary and early childhood teachers in these seminars makes for powerful cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives. One week Meghan revealed in her weekly reflection that high school students will do work for food. A planned debate on Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in her creative writing class got her students going when she said there'd be donuts as a prize. Here below are the remarks she shared at commencement to an enthusiastic crowd of graduates and their families and friends. I just had to share it too.

Good afternoon graduates, family, friends, and faculty,
My name is Meghan Blackwood also known as “Missuhhhh” to my eleventh-grade English class. Did you notice the stressed ending sound? I have learned it is purposely stressed to show intended attitude or frustration usually in response to my outrageous requests to read and respond to specific pages from classic works of literature such as Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wall Paper.”
Ever since I was five years old, I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I would line up my stuffed animals in front of my mother’s wardrobe and put on her heels. I would walk back and forth with a book in my hands pretending it was a lesson of great importance. I liked the way the heels sounded against her hardwood floors. It sounded noisy to those downstairs, but to me those sharp sounds were everything, it was the sound of my dreams becoming my future reality.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I knew that I loved to read…. At spontaneous times during my “lesson” I would look up from my book into the large mirrors and smile at my reflection. I wish I could have told my five-year-old self that walking around in heels all day can be very painful, and often cause you to walk on your tip toes.
In 2012 I enrolled into the five-year program, where I majored in English and worked towards my master’s in education.  While I learned much in the classroom, it was also outside the classroom that I learned …mostly from my high school students…The first thing I learned is you have to know your students by being aware of their likes and dislikes.  You have to try to select texts that students can relate to and will be motivated to read.  This can help students to engage in in-depth discussions with their peers when responding to a text. 
I have also learned to be prepared at all times. I know this is a cliché, but it has proven to be true time and time again especially as an educator. I learned this lesson within the first few weeks of my student teaching experience. According to Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will.” This is proven true, especially when it comes to using technology within the classroom setting, specifically that beloved Smart Board. One must learn to be flexible and be able to adapt to any situation, because it will happen when the light bulb on the Smart Board may blow, your laptop charger is missing, all of your dry erase markers are dried up, or you may even have on the wrong shoes that day. Regardless of the situation, flexibility is essential.
Another important concept that I have learned is that you are so much more than a teacher to your students. The students need that enthusiastic voice acknowledging their achievements, that high five affirming their success, and that grin reflecting their accomplishments. They need that encouragement, no matter how old they are, because sometimes you have to cheer them through very unlikely situations. When I was student teaching, one of my eleventh-grade students was absent for a few weeks from class. When he finally returned to class, he told me he was in jail. I did not ask him anything else; I just went to the back of the classroom and cried. I then returned to his desk and reminded him of all his wonderful accomplishments within the class.  I told him he was important to this class and that he belonged within the classroom – and not in a jail cell.  His eyes brightened and I could see his spirits lifted.
The most important concept I have learned, and am still learning, is to never lose sight of my initial purpose in becoming an educator. I often reflect on my five- year-old self in those heels reading a book to my “students.”  I knew then that I wanted to share my love of literature with students, to encourage their questioning of texts, to inspire their challenging of ideas and to motivate them to pass on their love of literature to others. Sometimes it is easy to become discouraged when embarking on your journey but just remember your five-year-old self.  Remember that passion, that longing…. and that desire to make a difference.
To my fellow teachers in the audience – be the teacher you often wish you had.  To my classmates setting out on other journeys…best of luck to you.

And to all of us – Congratulations class of 2017! Thank you! 


  1. So proud of you Megan! Your speech really inspired me and only made me want to work harder for our students.


  2. Great speech , good luck to her and all the graduates