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My Graduation Speech

Monday, October 24, 2011

*This is my first blog. Some of my Spark friends were very encouraging while I was stressing about writing this speech and suggested that I put it into a blog for all to read...so, here it is.
May 15, 2011

When our Student Advisor told me that I had received high honors, I was pleasantly surprised. When she followed up that announcement by telling me that I would be expected to deliver a speech, I thought she was joking…
…apparently not.

As I began to prepare this address, I confess that I had a temporary crisis of confidence. I wondered what on earth I would have to say that anyone would want to hear. I did realize that some of that insecurity may have been the residual effect of having been tuned out by my teenagers for the past decade, but it was more than that. I am a middle class, middle-aged, white lady who has spent 20 years in Community College. In an atmosphere of lofty goals and ambitions, I had none. In an environment where everyone seemed to be going somewhere--whether it is on to University, or to a job, or to advancement in their current job--I wasn’t. I ended up in college by accident--sort of--and stayed because I liked it.

Over the years, whenever people learned that I was taking college courses, they would ask about my academic goals--What was I going to school for? I usually told them I didn’t have any goals--I just wanted to be smarter than a 5th grader. The truth is that I really don’t have any academic goals--at least not in the way people usually expect.

Although I did well enough in high school and even graduated early, I never had any desire to go to college. Consistent with the great wisdom of youth, I figured that I could learn anything I wanted to learn on my own. The only thing I really wanted to do was to marry Steve Jorgensen and spend my life alongside him. My chosen career was to be his wife and the mother of his children--and this was at a time when women were being told to get out of the home, ditch their kids and make a “real” contribution. To choose to marry, have children and be financially dependent on a man was entirely counter-culture in the 1970s.

I grew up in a home where both of my parents worked full time. They had both dropped out of high school, but had eventually gone back and earned their diplomas. I was in grammar school when Dad got his, and was married by the time my mom got hers. My parents have always been hard workers, both at their jobs and at home. My father was very accomplished in trade skills--he could build anything and what he didn’t know, he could learn by talking to someone who did. He remodeled every home we ever lived in and did all the mechanical work on our vehicles. My mother was just as adept in her own way, and was every bit the do-it-yourselfer that Dad was. Although neither of them had pursued a higher level of schooling, I never sensed that they felt hindered by it. They had work they found satisfying and hobbies they enjoyed. There were even times that I heard my father speak derisively about some “educated idiot” who had come to their jobsite and tried to tell the crew how to do their jobs. The “educated” one was always someone who, in my Dad’s estimation, had never done an honest day’s work in his life. So, although my brother and I were expected to get good grades in school and to go on to college so we could get a good job, the messages I received about a college education were mixed, at best. Education was valued, but not in the absence of a good work ethic or old-fashioned common sense.

My parents were not thrilled when I told them I planned to marry Steve. It may have been the fact that we’d only dated for 3 weeks, or it may have been our 3-day engagement. I’m sure they were certain that our marriage would fail and that I would be left with emotional scars. My mother begged me to wait for a while before getting pregnant--again, the fear of failure--but we didn’t listen to anyone. We just dove in. I think that we did a lot of the right things in wrong ways--or at least unpopular ways—but we were never sorry, and would probably make many of the same choices again.

With all of that background, I’m sure you’re wondering how I ended up here today. The truth is that I may never have set foot on this campus, were it not for my children. Both of my eldest children had taken AP classes together here while they were in high school. When our son, Paul, graduated and decided to join the military, I enrolled in my first class in order to keep my daughter, Jenny, company. She needed one English class to earn her high school diploma and I thought it would be an encouragement to her if I took the class too. I was pretty jazzed to find that, after being out of school for more than 20 years, I tested into English 1A. In the end, Jenny decided to drop the class and went for a G.E.D instead; however, I found that I was enjoying it, so I stayed.

I took Computer Literacy, Math and English that first semester and I loved it. I enjoyed everything about those first classes, from reading the essays to writing the papers, and at the end of the semester, I quickly scanned the new schedule to see what classes would be offered next. I was definitely hooked!

After that first year, we added four more children to our family, along with all the activities that come along with them. Since that time, I have home educated 3 kids and a granddaughter, worked part-time, become a mother-in-law four times and a grandmother 14 times. The demands of life and family didn’t allow me to take classes continually, but as soon as things would slow down, I always seemed to find myself scanning the schedule of classes and would come back. Now, after 20 years, here I am.

I obviously didn’t set any speed records, but then I didn‘t intend to. It wasn’t a race. I have never fit the profile for the typical college student but what does that mean? Must a person always cash in their diploma for a career? Of course not! There are as many reasons to study as there are students and as many success stories as there are completed classes. Each class taken is an opportunity to be encouraged and to encourage others; to be challenged and to challenge others; to both learn and teach. I have had to think about things I might not have considered, had I not come here. I have laughed in some classes and cried over others; been enlightened by some and dismayed by others-- particularly when a professor was more interested in indoctrination than in instruction. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know people from outside my immediate community--some whose life experience was very similar to my own, and some whose experiences have been quite different.

I’ve been here since the ‘90s and remember when the entire KT campus was in that old building across the bridge from Pookie Park. I remember when the computer lab only had about a half dozen computers and the high school kids were the only ones who knew how to use them. I remember when Elizabeth Leach was pregnant with her twins, when Steven Wright taught History and David Tripp wasn’t gray. These three teachers, in particular, have been important to me and my family and I feel that we have, in some way, all made this journey together--they, my kids and I. Although I don’t know all of my fellow graduates personally, I am confident that they feel a similar attachment to some of their teachers.

The KT branch of CR has introduced hundreds of people to the world of higher education, giving them both the opportunity and the support they needed to be successful. I believe its existence and efficacy has already begun to shape a generation--not only in this community, but in others, as well. This campus has grown, both in size and scope over the past two decades, thanks to the vision and hard work of some very dedicated people to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. Our success is a reflection of their success.

Indeed, our success is also your success, for there is not a single graduate on this stage who has arrived here alone. Many of you have been instrumental in our being here. You have helped us with child care so that we could attend classes, do homework, or write papers; some of you have given us rides to school or helped with gas or book money; some of you have even cooked a meal once in a while, and I daresay that each and every one of you has, at some point, offered an encouraging word. Unless you’ve been here yourself, I’m sure you have no idea how much those words of encouragement and praise can mean to someone who is trying to balance home and family while learning Algebra! So, on behalf of myself, the other graduates, and all who will follow behind us, thank you—we could not have done it without you.

In conclusion, let me offer a few words of advice to those who follow:

Time and energy are finite quantities--we should decide what the most important things in our lives are and fit them in first.

There are some things in life that we only get one shot at, and school is not one of them—you can always come back to school.

Don’t be afraid to try something difficult--you can always take small bites.

Don’t believe everything you’re taught--sometimes an opinion sounds a lot like fact.

Try to consider things from perspectives different from your own, but don’t forget that your perspective is still yours.

Whatever you choose to do, do it with gusto! Strive for excellence and never settle for a B when you’re 3 points from an A.

I hope that I have been, and can continue to be an encouragement to the people I share my life with. I hope we never stop wanting to learn new things, meet new people and make new friends. I hope that my children always value integrity and virtue and pass those things to my grandchildren. I hope they will seek God with their whole hearts and will teach their children about Him, for He is the source of all knowledge!

My heart is full tonight and I am grateful for the great honor it’s been to be here. I am grateful for the love and support of my family, and for my husband, Steven, who is the best man I know. Finally, I am grateful for, and more proud of all 7 of my children than I ever dreamed possible. They are the ones who truly honor me and I am pleased to have been a part of bringing them to adulthood. Thank you.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Awesome speech! You are an amazing lady, I aspire to be you!! emoticon
    2062 days ago
    You are pretty amazing.
    2094 days ago
    Thanks for sharing , you did a great job of writting the speech
    2100 days ago
    Congratulations! That was a wonderful speech/story, and I'm so glad you shared it.

    2423 days ago
    Terri--thanks for sharing this! I went straight from HS to college and then got a job and started on my master's degree within a year. But I didn't like going to school part time and working part time while married--it was too hard! So I applaud anyone who manages to do that!

    I expect your words really resonated with the adults in the graduating class and with the parents of the kids in that class! I know they "hit the spot" for me. I've been toying with taking a class or 2 just to learn--who knows what I might do?

    Thanks! emoticon
    2423 days ago
    A big standing O for you, Terri! Awesome speech! Awesome attitude! You are so right about prioritizing and school is always there! You look so good in your graduation attire. God bless you and your family!
    2426 days ago
  • LILY8486
    This is a very encouraging speech for many people! So glad you posted it here.....
    Life is a wonderful journey!
    2428 days ago
    Great speech! Thank you for sharing it with us! Think I'll share it with my graduate, too. It's very encouraging. :)
    2429 days ago
    First of all -- BEAUTIFUL picture Terri!! And what a touching, inspirational, insightful speech!!! WAY TO GO!!!! emoticon

    You're a REMARKABLE woman, Terri!! Even though your kids may "tune you out" (as MOST kids do their parents), I'm guessing you touched ALOT of lives with your speech and by sharing your experiences!!!

    CONGRATS on ALL you've accomplished in your life! You are definitely a shining example for MANY people!! emoticon
    2429 days ago
    Congrats on your graduation! I loved hearing your story! What a great example of life long learning you are to your children and to others! That's the attitude I hope to instill in my children. Great advice too! My oldest just started high school and she will likely start taking classes at our local college. I think I'll join her!
    2429 days ago

    Comment edited on: 10/25/2011 12:45:51 AM
    Glad you finally posted this! Fantastic message----and you looked so good in your robe!
    2429 days ago
    You have not given up on yourself. You now know you are the only one that can make it happen for you.

    You have the power to succeed or fail.

    You have chosen to succeed.

    Writing is progress!!!

    Janet emoticon
    2429 days ago
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