I will address my remarks to the Class of 2015, and I promise to be brief. Today is your day, and you should be proud of this milestone accomplishment. I know the myriad of emotions and thoughts that are swirling through you today because 50 years ago I, too, sat on this very Oval waiting for my name to be called. Wow! I actually made it. Oh, my gosh, now reality takes over, will I get a job and, of course, when will the talking be over so we can celebrate!
The banners that you see around the Oval and across campus, a gift from the Class of 2006, say, “College of Choice, City of Opportunity,” and I know I can speak for those of us on stage and around the Oval when I say that we are thrilled you chose us!
My story is a bit different. Wagner was chosen for me. As you heard, my mother came to this country as a young woman in her 20s with little education and no opportunities. She came seeking a better life. In time she met my father, married, and they had a small bake shop in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island not far from the ferry. Neither of them had the opportunity to go to college, but they were determined that their three children would. They firmly believed that an education was the key to opportunities they never had.
My older sister was brilliant, artistic, and my protector. My big brother was smart and, if something caught his attention, he studied it in detail. I was the one who found learning was not so easy; for me, Bs and Cs were a triumph. In my junior year of high school, when I met with a guidance counselor, she suggested that I not try to go to college and waste my parents money. Can you imagine saying that to an already insecure 16 year old when all her friends were talking about was which college they would go to? Well, she did not know our mother. Not going to college was not an option. Going away to school was not an option — but Wagner, right over the hill from our shop, in her mind was the perfect option.
I vividly remember the August morning, while still wearing her shop apron, she drove me around the Oval for orientation. I sat in the car, begging her not to make me do this, and she calmly but firmly told me to get out, that not going was not an option and that I could do what others had done! With tears streaming down my cheeks, I walked up Main Hall’s steps.
Wagner took a chance on me. Wagner nurtured me and helped me find my niche. Wagner made me believe in me! I truly believe that my early struggles helped me succeed in my teaching career. So you do not feel sorry for me, let me tell you that I made straight As when I went for two graduate degrees; maturation and self-confidence made all the difference!
The nurturing environment I found here then still exists today, and perhaps is even stronger due in large part to the Wagner Plan and the dedicated faculty that guided you through this very special, practice-centered liberal arts program.
Some of you may be sitting there thinking I look familiar. Well, if you work out in Spiro Sports Center, you may have seen this senior citizen in hot pink sneakers being put through my paces by strength coach Brian Tracz. Believe me when I say how much I have appreciated your smiles of encouragement as I sweat through those workouts!
I have watched you grow and marveled at the civic engagement component of the Wagner Plan. Your efforts have benefited the Staten Island community. Through this program, you have seen how important team work is. You have seen how important being involved in a community is, and the difference that involvement can bring. As you move forward in your chosen field, please continue to be engaged in your own community.
Some observations I’d like to share:
Some of you are visionaries and will think outside the box, while others of you will be the executioners of those ideas and will make them happen. I have seen you at work.
Our theatre students are exceptional, and I fully expect to see their names on Broadway in the future.
I am in awe of the student athletes. They juggle course work, civic engagement, practice sessions and competitions. Theirs truly is time management to the max!
I could go through each department with glowing remarks, but I did promise to be brief.
Please allow me another moment to go into “teacher mode.”
Life is full of choices, and the foundation you received from home and Wagner have prepared you to move forward in life. I can tell you that the friendships you have made are lifelong ones.
Learning does not end today. Learning is a lifelong journey, and book knowledge is not always in the forefront; often it is the simple, everyday experiences that teach us.
Life is not always easy; there will be bumps in the road, but I can tell you: Life is good!
Surround yourself with positive people. Whenever possible, avoid the negative ones.
In my day people, referred to the three Rs of learning as Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. When I taught, I believed it was important to have three Rs for life instilled in my students: Respect, Responsibility and Reason.
As you leave today, please give a hug to your family members, who made sacrifices so you could attend Wagner. I know I will hug those who came to support me today. Be sure to thank those professors who helped you along the way and encouraged you.
In closing, let me ask that, as life takes over, try not to forget Wagner. Come back for a game. Stay connected through social media. And when you have “made it big,” tell us about it so we can applaud you.
Thank you for sharing this day with me, and congratulations, Class of 2015, from this Golden Seahawk!