Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A better commencement address 

Meanwhile, last Friday night our Scholar Dave Christopherson gave his farewell as a commencement address. The contrast could not be more stark. Here were his opening grafs (from a copy he sent me early last week -- I cannot vouch that this was exactly what was said).

To each of you who is a parent, spouse, other relative, or friend of an honoree this evening, I say most sincerely, �Thank you for the role you played in helping to develop another �Master Teacher�.�

Yes, honorees, regardless of your area of graduate studies� expertise, I hope each of you sees yourself tonight as a �Master Teacher.�

Certainly all of you have worked hard enough in your chosen fields to be recognized as advanced scholars. Whether your future professional scholarship may lie within the arenas of the arts, sciences, health-care, humanities, education, social sciences, or business, each of you has proven your potential to be honored for discovering, applying, or integrating into the fabric of our global society meaningful new additions to our human body of knowledge.

He then proceeded to discuss four master teachers, and then implored his students to follow the traditional call of St. Cloud State, to teach:

Yes, St. Cloud State University has a wonderfully rich tradition of developing and honoring teachers. And you are tonight all being honored as �Master Teachers.� You are called to pass along your knowledge, skills, and values to countless others whom you will serve, develop, and inspire over the years.

In what roles do you see yourself teaching? As a parent of a child? As a volunteer Big Brother or Big Sister to someone else�s child? As a Saturday- or Sunday-school teacher? As a coach to a player? As a mentor to a research assistant? As a manager to a young supervisor? As a counselor to the infirmed?

This past year we have reflected deeply on the enormity of suffering around the globe � from Sumatra to Sri Lanka, and from Sadr City to the Sudan. Yet in this world�s tiny niche known as St. Cloud, I believe that each of us in this auditorium trusts that we can make a difference . . . as teachers . . . not overwhelmed by the complexity of the world�s tapestry spread before us, but rather focused on the unique needs of each individual we encounter in our journey through life . . . serving, strengthening, and mending them, one thread at a time.

Anne Sullivan was a teacher who did just that � for years focusing on just one student. Anne was a true �Miracle Worker,� developing the incredible gifts of Helen Keller. Who has been your own Annie Sullivan during the semesters of your graduate studies on this campus? Before you retire tonight, will you write her or him an e-mail? Please thank your Annie Sullivan for being your very special teacher. Then think about how you will to serve as a �Master Teacher,� answering St. Cloud State�s traditional call to teach. ...

Pass the torch to those who follow;
Teach, respect, and honor all.
Spark their fires to render service;
Help them hear your noble call.
A retired faculty member wrote me the other day asking whether I was up to continuing the discussion list battles that flare on this campus periodically without Dave. That isn't what Dave is about. His teaching is truly one at a time. I watched him work with one of my students who had trouble writing a thesis, taking more time than I might have with one of his. His means of dealing with the diversity establishment on this campus has also been a patient one-on-one teaching of another viewpoint, and a ramrod conviction in individual rights and the value of cognitive diversity. He cannot possibly be replaced.

Dave is returning to the corporate world to continue his work in insurance innovation. Frater, ave atque vale! SCSU is fortunate to have had you as a master teacher.