2013 Commencement Speaker - Julie Bradshaw

Webster University's Commencement was held on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at The Muny. A few graduates were selected to speak at the individual ceremonies of their colleges and schools. They offered advice, inspiration and details about their own experiences at Webster University.

 

Julie Bradshaw
Master of Arts, School of Education

Good morning. I would first like to acknowledge the Communication Arts, Reading, Early Childhood Education and Teaching English as a Second Language Department for asking me to speak today. I can think of no higher honor than to be asked by this esteemed faculty, so thank you.

Langston Hughes is one of the most influential poets of American culture. In one of his poems, “Mother to Son,” the speaker is talking to her son about challenges and how life is “no crystal stair.” Today, I am here to give you my own advice. Not on life but on education, that like the poem states is full of tacks, splinters, and boards torn up, but still worth it in the end. I am not yet a mother, but I have had almost 800 children. They are my students.

I have been a high school Communication Arts teacher in the St. Louis city public schools for the past seven years. My school looks like a large factory. It is nestled in the heart of a commercial district boasting cheese and chocolate among other products with train tracks and highway 44 nearby.

However, if you would step into my classroom you would see a world that is far from the institutionalized notions you may have. It is a world that is full of adolescent ways and wonder. This year I have approximately 90 students and have earned their respect because many come from a world where respect is not automatically given but proven on a daily basis. I have students that are willing to learn literary terms like hyperbole, onomatopoeia, and personification by role playing, discussing, and engaging in simple laughter. They are willing to understand Shakespeare's archaic language even if it is still called "English." I have students that can see and feel the importance of rhyme and diction in a society that has largely forgotten about poetry.

My classroom is not always the idyllic crystal staircase that I describe. There are moments I am sitting in my teacher's desk at the end of the day, slumped down, feeling defeated and depleted. And perhaps this is what gets me to the heart of my message today: Education is the most challenging profession that you can enter. In fact, if you consider this as a profession, think again because I find it to really be a vocation. The amount of dedication and conviction necessary for learners to succeed against the mounds of statistics and data trying to prove the educator wrong seems sometimes insurmountable. Everyone from politicians to dictatorships think that they know the solution to our children's needs. Does this mean that you should give up? No. As an educator, you realize the importance of compromise without sacrificing your standards. Every day I see the necessity of what my administration and state tells me, but I am the one that ultimately make the decision for my students. And as the character Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird states, I “see it through no matter what.”

If there is one thing Webster has taught me, it is how to be an innovator of intellect when educating. From Folklore to Reading and Writing as a Cognitive Process, I am now equipped to come up with new ways to educate and inspire. Education may be considered a global problem but it will always have a local solution. It is up to us as educators to constantly make sure that we continue to learn, research, and push ourselves to find new ways to better understand and help our young people. That is what brought me to Webster two years ago, and what propels me as a learner to further my education. Daily 90 individuals teach me that I will always be the eternal learner.

In the meantime, every class I stand before my students, hoping that I am turning them into future leaders, that I am inspiring them to create global awareness. And that I am educating them not only to appreciate Romeo and Juliet, or to understand the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but to appreciate the humility of life and all of its complexities. Ultimately, I strive to teach them how to deal with life's predicaments in a rational and insightful way.

We gather here represented by all nationalities and ethnicities, but we have all chosen, and somehow been chosen, to pursue the journey of education. This journey's end goal is to help create advanced citizens for a worldwide setting. It is by far the hardest vocation we will ever have, but it is also the most rewarding. We recognize that there are splinters and cracks along the way. That we may think we have reached the top of the staircase but really it is just a landing that continues on. But we keep climbing in our calling because we realize that education is not the unachievable crystal staircase but rather an ongoing step forward towards a very important end.