Future teachers and educators heard words that inspired both laughter and tears at Commencement 2018 for National Louis University’s National College of Education (NCE).
After the grads processed into Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater June 16 with smiles and cleverly decorated graduation caps, NLU President Nivine Megahed, Ph.D. and Robert Muller, Ed.D., dean of NLU’s National College of Education, welcomed them. “You join thousands of alumni who everyday impact the lives of children throughout the nation,” Muller said.
Commencement speaker Robin Steans, who started her career as a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher, quipped to the grads that they would always be the most interesting person at every cocktail party and barbecue they attend, telling stories of their students.
“Teaching and working with children is the best job there is. It’s also the hardest,” she said. “It’s hard because you not only have to know the rocket science, you have to be able to explain it to others, and you have to do so while managing a class of squirming young scientists who bring any number of serious issues with them to school—issues that affect their ability to concentrate and learn,” she said.
Teachers do that with too many young scientists in the room, and not enough supplies, and have to make hundreds of decisions in a day—more than anyone could possibly get right.
Despite all those obstacles, “never has the job (teaching) been more important,” she affirmed.
NLU Provost Alison Hilsabeck, Ph.D., announced that students had chosen faculty member Terry Jo Smith for the Distinguished Teaching Award. Smith said that 40 years ago, a close friend of hers died, prompting her to ponder what she wanted to do with her life. She chose teaching, specifically special education.
“I had the very good fortune to walk into a class that wouldn’t let me teach them…they insisted that they teach me, and that I learn to know them on their own terms and within the context of their lives,” she said. “Learning that changed me in profound ways that I would have never expected.”
Her next teaching experience was with immigrant students, where she learned she had to understand her students not only in the context of their cultures and lives, but within their histories. Later, she began teaching future teachers, then doctoral students, and most recently online learners. All told she has spent the past 30 years, or half her life, teaching.
“I started because I thought maybe I’d be such a good teacher that a kid may not die young like my friend. But I realized it’s really not in my hands when people die,” she said. “I saved myself from dying young—from dying inside.
“I was allowed to go on the journey…(and) I know being a teacher and educator is a really good thing to do with a life.”
NCE’s student speaker, Donnatella Smith, told her fellow education grads that she encountered a lot of obstacles during her educational path, including having to work two full-time jobs.
“I kept reminding myself why I took the journey in the first place – to change students’ lives,” she said.
She wanted to share a gift she was given of looking at others and seeing good things in them that they don’t yet see in themselves.
She offered graduates three lessons. She learned the first when she asked a veteran teacher the single most important lesson she would give her students if she could give only one.
“To be kind,” the teacher replied.
Smith said she learned the second, always be yourself, from NCE faculty including Chuck Sentell and Diane Morrone. They made suggestions on how to use your individuality as a strength.
The third lesson, she said, is to never give up, citing the African proverb, “However long the night, the dawn will break.”
“It is now our turn to educate the students of the future as the faculty of NLU has done for us,” she exhorted her fellow graduates, moments before each of them started walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.