Wearing black gowns and decorated mortar boards, graduates of National Louis University’s National College of Education processed into the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago June 24 for the 131st Commencement.
Guest speaker Dominic Belmonte, CEO of the Golden Apple Foundation, got the ceremony off to a thoughtful and moving start. Quoting artists from Shakespeare to Rickie Lee Jones, he urged teachers to think of themselves as first responders to their students, and to know that for a child, three years of receiving ineffective teaching creates a deficit from which many never recover.
“You could be the one to make a difference,” he said.
Always something teachers have to ad lib
NLU has provided great preparation for students, he said, but new teachers will always face situations they are not prepared for. In his own case as a beginning teacher, Belmonte said it was a student who had an epileptic seizure in class. For many teachers, though, it’s the bee coming through the window. He related the story of one teacher who smacked a bee and ate it in front of her students, in order to snap them to attention.
“Your teaching will be defined by the ones (students) who don’t like you,” Belmonte said.
Sometimes you fail a student
He related the story of a popular, aimless, fun-seeking high school student he taught who took his own life in February of senior year. Belmonte described how helpless and remorseful he felt because he had not picked up on any danger signs.
“I have taught over 5,000 students,” he pondered, “and I think about Skip every day.”
Saying that he failed Skip, he asked the graduating teachers to put out their feelers to notice what kids–even young kids–aren’t saying about the troubles or horrors or worries they may be facing in their lives.
In a grace note as he wrapped up, Belmonte dedicated his address to his mother, who had passed away the previous day.
Distinguished teacher selected
As the ceremony continued, NLU President Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., presented the Distinguished Teaching Award to Sophie Degener, Ed.D. Each year, students select one professor in their college to receive the sought-after award.
Student speaker Jasmine Adams, who received her Master of Arts in Teaching at the ceremony, will become a fourth grade teacher this fall in a Chicago neighborhood similar to the one in which she grew up.
A devastating experience that crystallized a challenge
Adams started by talking about how her sister’s boyfriend, to whom her sister was about to get engaged, was shot and killed one night in a spurt of random violence. She described the devastating effect, magnified to many other families and communities by similar experiences.
She quoted activist Cesar Chavez, who said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community,” explaining that her educational journey included an expansion of what she considers community. She no longer considers community to be defined as people who look like you or come from where you come from.
“We become a new community when we choose to impact others to make this world a better place,” she said.
Students receiving special honors
During the rest of the ceremony, NLU Provost Alison Hilsabeck, Ph.D., announced that 477 students have been inducted into the National Society for Leadership and Success honor society; Veterans Affairs Director Ramon Prieto said 15 student veterans were graduating, and NCE Dean Rob Muller announced that NCE graduate Nancy Zhu had been selected as the state’s Lincoln Laureate, receiving an award in a Springfield ceremony.
Thirty NCE students received their doctoral degrees, 54 attained the Educational Specialist degree and eight received Certificates of Advanced Study.
Three hundred seventy one students received Master of Education degrees and 319 received Master of Arts in Teaching degrees.
Congratulations to all the graduates!