Saturday, March 17, 2012

Graduation Valedictory Speech

As some of you know I was asked to write a speech for the Valedictory Celebration for NYU Steinhardt as a representative of the Dance Education Department. After the initial speech writing they narrow it down to 5 finalists, who then have to present the speech in person in front of a panel consisting of students, administrators, and faculty. 

I was truly honored to be asked to write a speech and doubly humbled when I got into the finalist round. Unfortunately my speech was not chosen to be presented. I have however been chosen to represent my Department by being this year's Departmental Banner Bearer for the Steinhardt Valedictory Celebration.  I will carry my department' s banner onto the stage at Radio City Music Hall.

This award carries with it a certificate and an honorarium that will be presented to me at the Valedictory Ceremony, on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at Radio City Music Hall beginning at 3 pm. I will be seated on stage with the dais party.

So even though I do not get to give the speech that I wrote,  I am incredibly honored to be asked to be the Banner Bearer for my Department.

I know that many of you were very helpful and encouraging and sending positive vibes. All of which I truly appreciate and I do believe was not a wasted effort. You all should know that I did my very best and spoke from my heart, which is the only way I know how to do it.

Thank you all for all of your support throughout my entire Graduate Career.

Below is the final version of my speech so that you can imagine with me what it would have been like to read it on stage at Radio City.

My Valedictory Speech 2012

When I decided to go back to school to get a graduate degree I was gainfully employed as a dance educator and enjoying every minute of it. I was teaching dance to grades K – 12 and actively engaged in my school as the resident choreographer, a 9th grade advisor, and as the director of student activities.

My decision to return to school was multifaceted and involved my desire to better understand my own teaching philosophy as well as enhance my intuitive ability to teach by exploring methods and theories that resonated with what I considered my progressive approach to education.
The program at NYU Steinhardt seemed a perfect fit, except that I was hardly your typical Dance Education graduate student. Being 55 and male, not only was I the oldest student in the program I was one of 4 men and very often the only man in many of my classes. If you think men are a minority in the dance world they are practically non-existent in the world of Dance Education especially on the elementary school level.
At first I felt out of place, floating, unanchored in a sea of young energetic women all intent on being the best dance educator to ever come out of NYU. I was just happy to make it to my next class without having a senior moment.
What room am I in? What do you mean class meets on Monday, isn’t it Monday?
After my first year of studying educational theory and philosophy, research technique and protocols, as well as how to teach special populations, I finally started to settle into being a graduate student and became totally engaged with a whole new generation of dance educators.
Then I lost my full time teaching job, a casualty of budget cuts and austerity measures. I was not a happy puppy. I considered postponing my education to concentrate on being gainfully employed.
I applied for over 70 positions and was only able to get 4 interviews, none of which developed into any viable employment. I began to piece together part time jobs and even worked for $8.00 an hour just to get my foot in the door at some institutions.  
For the first time in my adult life I felt unemployable. I began to wonder if it was worth it to continue my graduate studies and put myself into more debt.
Friends encouraged me to stick with it and were supportive and positive that things would turn around. I wasn’t so sure.
Many of my schoolmates were in the same boat except that I was 20 or 30 years older than most of them. I guess you could say that being unemployed made me feel younger because now I knew exactly what they were going through. I finally got to live like a graduate student, not sure of how I was going to get through the next class, find a job and manage to pay my rent.
So despite the odds and my fear of increasing debt I stuck it out and I am truly glad that I did.  My last year as a graduate student at Steinhardt proved to be the most fruitful both professionally and personally. I solidified friendships, I developed a new network of professionals, whose concerns and interests matched mine, I presented a workshop at the National Dance Education Organization conference as a student representative of NYU
and I had the pleasure of taking classes in other departments in Steinhardt, which expanded my viewpoints on arts education and its practical application in the field. I even developed a healthy interest in and respect for education research.
Well I stuck with it and things did turn around.  I am currently employed 6 days a week and have actually had a number of job offers that I had to turn down.
I am thrilled, humbled, and honored to have made this journey with many of you sitting here in the audience today. From my perspective I see the wealth of opportunities that a graduate education from NYU Steinhardt has to offer for each and everyone of us.
In conclusion I want to leave you with some words that a very dear friend of mine said to me once many years ago and that still ring true today.

"when we walk to the edge of all the light we have

and take that step into the darkness of the unknown,
we must believe that one of  two things will happen:
There will be something solid for us to stand on
or we will be taught how to fly."
When you leave here today I truly hope each and every one of you will either be standing on solid ground or learning how to fly.             
I thank you all for providing me with a rewarding and memorable graduate school experience.