Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Long-Way Shortcut

Well, commencement came and went.  If only I could say the same thing about the actual end of classes and student teaching.  But only 4 more weeks to go, and this morning's ceremony may just have been the thing I needed to help me through the final stretch.  

Besides the whole graduating thing, there were a few moments worth mentioning that made the day truly perfect:

Kirk's BFF Nick Harmon also graduated today, and he honored me with both an on-the-stage hug and an official stole of gratitude (don't worry... his wife got the fancy gold one) for tutoring him in a few of his classes.

My own BFF classmate (and therefore fellow graduate) Ben Meredith happened to take his family to the exact same restaurant we had chosen for our post-graduation celebration, so I got to party with him and his awesome wife.  (Look closely and you can see Kirk stroking Ben's ear in the picture.)

And then there was that whole student-speaker thing, which really did turn out to be pretty great.  My name was on the official seating chart and everything!  I'm certain every single one of you wanted to sit through two hours of commencement just to hear my 5 to 7 minutes, but I promised to spare you that pain.  Here it is: the big speech.

University of Phoenix Graduation Speech
By Andrea K. Fife

“A lot of people want a shortcut,” wrote Randy Pausch in his bestselling novel on achieving childhood dreams.  He defined the best shortcut as “the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.”  Looking out at the expanse of black caps and tassels, I know the names of only seven individuals graduating with me today.  But I know something about the journey each of us has made to be in this moment: each has taken that best of shortcuts – hard work.

A collegiate degree in any form from any university is something to be proud of.  But a University of Phoenix graduate can boast of so much more than academic achievement.  The path to a University of Phoenix degree is rarely short or direct, as many of us have lived our share of successes and failures before discovering what we really want to be when we grow up.  That unique timing means that while we have lived the past months and years of our lives as students, we have also lived as professionals, community leaders, members of the PTA, as husbands or wives, fathers or mothers -- for some of us, even as grandparents.  

We’ve experienced life-changing moments and managed to fit them between that defining week-day known to our friends and family as “class.”  In my small group of classmates alone, two students have welcomed a new baby into their families.  Others have undergone employment and housing changes.  And two students continued on after learning one of their parents would not live to see him earn this degree. 

College graduation statistics are somewhat non-specific, but a Washington Monthly article suggests that while 54% of first-time, full-time college students graduate, those of us in the “over 24 who’ve tried college before” group are significantly less likely to cross that finish line.  In fact, less than a quarter of us “non-traditional” students will earn the cap and gown we’re each wearing today.  So take a moment and be proud of taking the long way.  Be proud of your hard work!

And then start working hard again.  

Thomas Boswell said, “There is no substitute for excellence – not even success.”  Today is a huge success in each of our lives, but it is nothing compared to the excellence we’ve been prepared to achieve.  Because whether we are graduating today with a degree in business, in criminal justice, in education, in nursing or health care, in the social sciences, or in technology, I would be willing to bet we’ve learned far more than what will be reflected on the official transcripts.

For one thing, there’s the confidence that comes from presentation after presentation after presentation.  I’ll never forget the anxiety that accompanied my first-ever University of Phoenix presentation.  I’d been asked to share a few minutes of information about myself for an introductory level business course, and I was nothing but nerves.  Unfamiliar with PowerPoint, I had made an actual poster, and lacking confidence in my public speaking skills, I had memorized every word of the speech I intended to give.  36 courses, 2 degrees, and an estimated 75 academic presentations later, I can now add “public speaking” to my personal bag of tricks.

For some of us, maybe that new trick is time management.  There are the readings that each of read faithfully, word for word, every week of every course.  Right?  The papers.  The team assignments.  The discussion questions.  The learning team logs, the end of course surveys, the forums.  Quizzes, chapter shares, team charters.  Meetings, phone calls, text messages.  Rewrites and edits, compilations, references.  WritePoint revisions and plagiarism checker reports.  Hard work, people, and lots of it.  A University of Phoenix degree is hard work.  Maybe your journey included plenty of all-nighters or scrambling to submit that assignment just before the deadline.  But in any case, you got it done, and you got yourself here to graduation day.  So in addition to the content knowledge we each gained along the way, we can now add “time management” to our growing list of marketable skills.

And what about interpersonal skills?  Perhaps there are a few of you who will claim that every moment of every learning team assignment was nothing but sunshine and roses.  But I think most of us will take away a better understanding of human diversity, an appreciation for the specific talents of others, and maybe even a better understanding of how we each fit into a bigger picture.  Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”  It is amazing how working as a group can force an individual to reexamine who he or she is.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is about motivation.  As an elementary student, I was fortunate to have a long string of teachers who were determined not to let me fail.  I worked hard, but if I ever missed a step, these great teachers were a constant safety net.  Throughout middle school and high school, this safety net stayed on in the form of involved parents – particularly my mother, whose high expectations never really gave me a chance to stray far from my goals.  

My first real detour occurred when I tried to earn a bachelor’s degree at a traditional university.  I quickly discovered that I respond best to two main sources of motivation: public perception and competition.  On a large campus as a seemingly faceless student, I just didn’t have what I needed to succeed.  But at University of Phoenix, I found highly driven classmates and plenty of opportunities to succeed (or fail) publicly.  I found a place where I could succeed.

So here I stand, ready to accept the symbol of my achievement, the culmination of the long-way short cut each of us here chose to take.  I hope that symbol will open doors for me.  I hope I’ll make more money, earn more exciting opportunities, go professionally further.  I hope I will inspire my children to choose higher education.  I hope I can continue to feel the pride that comes with accomplishment.  I mean, those are the reasons I headed down this path in the first place.  I am proud of all I have accomplished, and I definitely think I’ve earned a party.  

But I won’t let this diploma be the biggest thing I ever accomplish.  As we graduate today with the increased confidence, with the sharpened skill sets, and the self-determination of University of Phoenix graduates, I can’t help but wonder, where will your next short cut lead?


Kris said...

Very well written. Congrats Andrea!