Sunday, May 12, 2013

What will I give you to remember me by?

On Thursday May 9th, I opened my commencement address to the 2013 graduating class for the School of Education at Loyola University as follows:

Welcome, Reverend President Garanzini, Dean Williams, members of the Deans Party, Faculty, Family, Friends and especially Graduates. It is an honor and a privilege to present this commencement address today.

I am blogging about the experience, because, for me, it was one of those deeply meaningful - end of the year - rituals that as educators gives us such a gift. One season ends. We reflect. We cheer. We laugh. We cry. We lay exhausted from the effort of another great season of teaching and leading. We are on fumes. And yet, we celebrate that wonderful achievement of another year, another season of our lives so to speak – and watch the fruits of our labor (and theirs) walk across the stage.

Like most commencement speakers, I was aware no one is really there to hear my message. The graduates are there to celebrate their triumph - their sustained effort and work. And, as in so many cases the village of family and friends that love them and helped them walk across that stage, are there too.  
And funny thing about this annual ritual: We realize that life always plays in a forward direction; there is no rewind button. I watched them walk across that stage to get that hard fought for diploma and wondered, What do we give them to remember us by?

In my message – you can get an abridged version of it at SmartBlog on Education - I suggested four categories of pursuits for knowing if you are truly making a difference.

First, did you pay attention to others deeply?

Is it possible there are individuals you could have loved more deeply or encouraged more often?  “Someday I’ll get around to noticing and paying attention to others better,” you say. But someday never comes.

Second, did you become a servant leader?  

Robert Greenleaf wrote:   
The servant leader is servant first . . . it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve.  The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society: Will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived?

Long after you have left the building, will there be a positive residue of service that permeates from the impact of your work?

Third, did you forgive others gracefully?

The very nature of communication among educators during a school year guarantees feelings will be hurt, someone will be wounded, and grace will be needed.

Grace wins out in the workplace when we set down the grudges we are carrying around.

Grace wins when we use forgiveness to help others become better people.

Fourth, did you live a reflective, balanced high-energy life?

The pace of your teaching, leading and serving days will leave you emotionally and physically exhausted. And the more tired you are, the less positive energy you will have for the demands of the fast-paced work that lies ahead. 

The key is to get better at strategic disengagement:  low positive energy reflection time activities. When you become a more reflective practitioner, you avoid the malady of job fatigue: low energy, disengagement from work, superficial effort, and poor judgment.

Here is how I finished my address:

As a Loyola graduate today, you will choose and build the story of how you will be remembered every day, one brick at a time. Your teaching. Your serving, your leading, Your story. May those of us be blessed enough to have known you and your story, may we never forget it.

So, what was your story this year? What did you give us to remember you by in this season of your life? 

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