Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Underdogs

June 1, 2009

I was given the honor of speaking to the most recent graduates from St. Vrain's Adult Education school on May 22.  Here is the text of my remarks.

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It is a great privilege for me to be here with you tonight to witness this milestone in your life – to witness your accomplishment of reaching graduation.

I want to thank Mary Willoughby for inviting me to be here tonight.  I want to say congratulations, too, to all of the families who are here.  I know from personal experience that very few of us achieve a milestone like this on our own.  Teachers and family provide us with immeasurable support.

My wife and I supported each other as we completed our educations.  First, she worked while I finished school and then we traded roles.  I worked while she finished school. 

So, I would like to say thank you to the staff at Adult Ed and to the parents, spouses, significant others and friends who are here.

I want to talk for a very few minutes about a subject that is not often mentioned at graduation ceremonies.  I want to speak on the subject of Underdogs – people and groups who find a way to be successful even when the odds are against them.

Some, perhaps many of us on this stage have felt like an underdog at one time or another in our lives.  I know that I have had that feeling.

I never felt more like an underdog than when I graduated from high school and went off to college.

I grew up in a small town.  There were barely 1500 people in my town.  I had 40 in my graduating class from high school.  About the same size as your class.

When I went to college, there were more people living in my dormitory than lived in my entire town.  I went to my first class – a required class for freshman in a giant lecture hall.  There may have been more students in that one lecture hall than there were students in grades K – 12 where I had come from.

I didn’t know if I could do this.  I didn’t know if I could survive at a big University.

I became even more intimidated when I heard my college classmates talk about all the math and science classes they had taken in high school.

When I was a senior in high school, my science teacher took a new job the 2nd week of school.  My school wasn’t able to recruit a new teacher.  That was the end of science for me.

I wasn’t sure how I would be able to keep up in college.  I went to sleep feeling homesick most nights my first semester.

But, I had learned something growing up in my small town that would help get through college and succeed I had learned to work hard.  I’ve had jobs since I was 10 years old.  That was a gift my parents gave me.  It was a gift my wife’s parents gave her.  They made us work.

I learned that hard work can make up for a lot.  And the best thing is, we get to decide how hard we want to work.

I read a magazine article recently by a person named Malcolm Gladwell.  The whole article was about How Do Underdogs Win?  How does David beat Goliath?

Gladwell says that there are three reasons that Underdogs are successful.

1.       They work harder than most people are willing to work.

2.       They are willing to do things other people won’t do.  Successful underdogs don’t care if people say “you’re not cool.”

3.       Successful underdogs keep getting up on their feet when they get knocked down.  They don’t give up.

I want to tell you about the janitor at my high school.  Mr. Bray.

Mr. Bray had a big family.  He had five or six or seven children.  I don’t remember exactly how many.  Mr. Bray had a dream.  He wanted his family to have a house where every one of his kids could have their own bedroom.  Throw in a family room and a dining room – that’s a big house.

It’s hard to find a house like that on a janitor’s salary in a small town.  But, that was Mr. Bray’s dream.  He wasn’t going to be stopped by lack of money.

From the time I was about five or six, we would see Mr. Bray at different places around town – after school, on weekends and all through the summer.  Mr. Bray would tear down abandon buildings in town.  He would work out an arrangement with the property owner.  He would tear down their old building if he could keep the wood and bricks and pipes.

I remember people around town talking about Mr. Bray.  They would say things like, “I can’t believe he spends so much time tearing down buildings.”

I’m ashamed to say we kids weren’t so kind.  We said the things kids say before we know better. “There’s Mr. Bray tearing down another building.  What a dork.”

Mr. Bray didn’t care what people in town said about him.  He had a dream.  He was going to make it come true.

Mr. Bray carried himself with pride and dignity everywhere he went.  When he completed a demolition job.  The lot left behind was spic and span.  Mr. Bray did things right.

And, by the time I was a freshman in high school… Mr. Bray had built one of the biggest houses in town.

That’s what successful underdogs do.  They work hard.  They do things others won’t do.  They don’t worry whether or not people think they are cool.

I want to tell you one more story.  It’s from a book I’m reading with my daughter.  It’s called Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor.  It is a true story about Juan and Lupe Villasenor – two immigrants who were driven from their homes in Mexico by a revolution almost 100 years ago.  They built a successful life in the United States.  (Their son is a well known author – he wrote the book.)

Juan and Lupe did not have easy lives.  Their families were knocked down many, many times.  But, they kept getting back on their feet.

There is a scene in the book that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Juan and his family are camped outside of Ciudad Juarez.  They are hoping to cross the border into the United States.

They have nothing.  They have to pick corn out of manure to keep themselves from starving to death.  One night, after a terrible sandstorm, one of Juan’s sisters goes blind.  The family is discouraged.  They want to give up.

Juan’s mother, Dona Margarita, calls her family together.  This is a women whose lost several children; her daughter is blind; her grandchildren are crying with hunger; they have to sleep on the ground through dust storms.

With all these hardships, this is what Dona Margarita said to her family, “We must open our hearts so that we can see the possibilities in our predicament.  If we do not look for the possibilities, we have nothing.”

I can’t imagine the hardships the Villasenor family endured.  It is humbling to hear the words spoken by Dona Margarita; to hear someone who has endured so much declare We Must Find the Possibilities in our Predicament.

But, that is what successful underdogs do.  They work hard.  They do things other people say aren’t cool.  They keep getting back up on their feet when they are knocked down and they look for life’s possibilities.

That is how Dreams Come True.

You all have taken a less traditional path to graduation than people who will graduate tomorrow from traditional high schools.  Some people might consider you underdogs.

Here’s what I would say.  You already have an advantage in life that others don’t.  You know how to overcome adversity.  There’s no softness on this stage.  I’m sure of that.

You know how to work hard.  You know how to keep going when others say you aren’t cool.  And, you know how to pick yourself up when you get knocked down.

You can accomplish your dreams if you keep doing what you’ve done to reach this place tonight.

Congratulations.

Thank you again for giving me the privilege of witnessing what you’ve accomplished.

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St. Vrain Student Technology Fair

February 11, 2009

My daughter Ada Grace and I had a great time at the St. Vrain Student Technology Fair this past weekend.  She had showing me the work that she and her classmates in the Central Elementary 1st Grade did for the fair. http://twitpic.com/1dltc

A significant number of people put in a significant number of hours to make this event possible.  Thank You!!  The Tech Fair was featured in a recent School Library Journal article. http://tinyurl.com/aqu7fs

Congratulations to Frederick High School for being named Grand Champion. 

Education Articles

January 13, 2009

Several people have sent me education articles over the past six weeks. My stack is growing. I must confess I am not making it through the articles as rapidly as I would like.  Here's what's in the stack now:

Noddings, Nel. "Schooling for Democracy." Phi Delta Kappan. September 2008.

Hess, Diana. "Democratic Education to Reduce the Divide." Social Education. Nov/Dec 2008.

Wilensky, Rona. "High Schools Have Got It Bad for Higher Ed – and That Ain't Good." Phi Delta Kappan. December 2007.

Zhao, Yong. "Are We Fixing the Wrong Thing?" Educational Leadership. May 2006.

Kahlenberg, Richard. "Why Socioeconomic Integration Works." [may be incorrect title]. Educational Leadership. May 2006.

Kozol, Jonathan. "Confections of Apartheid." Phi Delta Kappan. December 2005.

Escamilla, Kathy et al. "Rithinking the 'Gap.'" Journal of Teacher Education. March/April 2005.

Paez, Doris. "Culturally Competent Assessment of English Language Learners." National Association of School Psychologists.

Barnett, Berry. "The Future of the Teaching Profession." EDge. Nov/Dec 2008.

Bollier, David. "When Push Comes to Pull." An Aspen Institute conference report. 2005.

Snell, Lisa. "Virtual Schools are the Future." citation unknown.

Make Music with What You Have Left

December 8, 2008

The intent of this blog is not to relate personal stories. But, for the second post in a row, I'm going to do exactly that. 

My 6th grade daughter had a “harrowing” night last week. She plays the harp in 6th grade orchestra. In her first concert this fall, she used the school harp. She wrongly assumed the same would hold true for the concert last week. Instead, her teacher expected her to bring the one rent for practice at home.

My daughter was mortified (I know these are strong words but they’re accurate). Trying to fight through her embarrassment she found me in the packed auditorium to help her move the school harp to the gym. First, it had to be tuned in about 10 minutes. Hands trembling, she got through the job, all the while telling me how this was the most humiliating thing to happen to anyone in the universe.

I stood by and cautiously tried to offer some perspective that, perhaps, others have endured similar or worse fates. I quickly realized that was not the right tact (I’m new to middle school, too). I needed to let her have this experience and let perspective come later.

Because we had to transport the harp to the gym, my daughter had to sit alone in the jam packed gymnasium waiting 5 minutes (an eternity) for the other members of the orchestra arrive. Yet, when the time came to play she sat tall in her seat and played with a look of confidence.

Little did we know that midway through the performance one of her harp strings snapped. From our location on the far end of the gym, she played on as if all was fine. She simply shifted octaves and played on. All the while, she was thinking, “How will I pay for the string.”

She was petrified (again another strong word but captures the moment) to report the news of the broken string to her teacher. She recruited me again to move the harp and be by her side when she “fessed up.” Her teacher, the epitome of calm among chaos, immediately put her at ease and erasing the evening’s anxiety. My daughter left the building knowing she could be proud that she’d played on.

I was inspired to write this blog with the perspective that came from a friend a day later. She sent a newspaper column which my daughter and I read together.

At the risk of making this an obnoxiously long post, here is the column by Jack Riemer of the Houston Chronicle. It takes your breath away.

ITZHAK PERLMAN IMPROVISES

– by Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2001

 

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.  To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward.  Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play. By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs.  They wait until he is ready to play. But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room.  There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.  People who were there that night said later: "We figured he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one."  But he didn't. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before.  Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings.  I know that and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before. When he finished, there was an awed silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done. He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet us and then he said – not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, "You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left." What a powerful line that is.  It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the definition of life – not just for artists but for all of us. Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any he had ever made before, when he had four strings. So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.

Uncle Edmund

December 2, 2008

I have been thinking about my multi-great Uncle Edmund tonight. Some email and article exchanges prompted me to think of him. He’s a man I met only a few times in my life. He also gave me advice that changed the course of my life.

 

I began college as many people do with a utilitarian mindset. What major will lead me to a good job at a good salary? I began with plans to be an engineer. By the end of my freshman year, I knew that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed finance and statistics so I turned next to the business school. I was cruising along through my sophmore year satisfied with my choice. Then, out of the blue, I received a letter from Uncle Edmund.

 

Uncle Edmund was a business school professor, teaching in an MBA program. Seems he heard through the family grapevine that I was in business school as an undergraduate. He was not impressed.

 

His letter was short and to the point. It went something like this: What are you doing? If you are going to be a professional of any note, you will have to go to graduate school. Why in the world are you pursuing a professional degree at this time in your life. You are missing your last opportunity for a liberal arts education.

 

Uncle Edmund’s opinion carried weight in our family. I took his advice to heart and I looked into what it would take to switch to a liberal arts major. It was the best thing I ever did. I fell in love with economics, which led me toward public policy. I took classes in South African History and learned about a part of the world I’d barely heard of before, gleaning lessons of human tenacity I still think about today. I took literature classes and Western Civilization, which gave me the opportunity to read classics I would have completely missed. I had the chance to study with a history professor who ripped my essays to shreds and motivated me to stretch myself. I entered subject areas that were far outside my comfort zone. And, for the first time in my life I experience the joy of serendipitous learning – discovering things I did not know existed.

 

Liberal Arts is not for everyone. And, there is a need to be a bit utilitarian when it comes to investing in college.  I understand that. And, thank goodness we have people who stick with the engineering. But, I also learned that it’s easy to get caught up on a practical track and miss out on a lot that education and the world has to offer.

 

I still earned a business degree. I was far enough along that with an extra semester I earned two degrees.  I also left college with with an education I never imagined was possible because it didn’t seem the sensible thing to do.

 

I appreciate my Uncle Edmund.

I love the 4th

July 4, 2008

July 4th is my favorite holiday.  I love the community celebrations.  We go to Thompson Park every year to hear the orchestra and visit with friends.  I love the fireworks even when the mosquitoes are biting.  Most of all, I love breakfast at our house on the 4th.  We don’t eat anything special.  It’s chance for me to read a few things to my kids and talk about the United States.


We read a portion of the Declaration of Independence and talk about the courage it took to start a nation.


We read the Gettysburg Address and talk about the courage it takes to continue a nation.


And, we read a speech by Frederick Douglass and talk about the courage it takes for a nation to face up to its shortcomings in order to move closer toward its potential.


I write this on July 3rd.  I can’t wait until tomorrow morning.


Enjoy the holiday!

No Meetings in July

July 3, 2008

July is the one month of the year that the school board does not meet.  I think the break makes sense.  It gives all of us a chance to collect our thoughts.


I will be gone part of the month of July on a family vacation.  We chose July for our vacation so that I wouldn’t miss any meetings.  I will be reading, though.  I am bringing a stack of education articles on our trip – articles I accumulated over the spring but never had the chance to read.


I also have written several posts that will on the blog every few days this month.


I hope everyone is enjoying their summer.

Ben Franklin’s Politics

May 14, 2008

For better or for worse, I tend to subscribe to Ben Franklin’s style of politics.  My understanding of Franklin is that he was quite willing, even eager, to take on difficult political issues but he did so very carefully.  Franklin was the great compromiser who played a critical role in keeping the founding fathers with powerful egos working together toward independence.  Some might argue that Franklin’s style was too soft, at times passive-aggressive and perhaps, at times, inconsistent.  I, perhaps, could make the case myself.  None-the-less when I reflect on my style I probably have more of a Franklin style than the "ram it down the throat" style of Samuel Adams or the ideologue style of Jefferson.  Now, I’m not suggesting by any stretch that I in any way hold a candle to our founding fathers.  I’m just saying, in terms of style, I tend more toward the Franklin method.

I watched portions of the John Adams mini-series on HBO (one of the few perks of business travel).  I will long remember an exchange in one scene between Adams and Franklin.  Adams had just publicly humiliated a member of the Continental Congress who was opposed to declaring independence.  At the pub that night, Franklin scolded Adams for "embarrassing someone in public."  Adams replied sarcastically, "Should I do so in private?"  And Franklin said in earnest, "Absolutely in private.  They might even thank you for it.  But never in public."  Personally, I have been guilty of embarrassing people in public from time to time.  It made me feel good at the time but probably didn’t advance my cause too much.

As I look for ways to help our school district improve, I think about Ben from time to time.

Abbondanza Pizzeria

April 25, 2008

Bob Goff is a remarkable business person.  I like the pizza he serves and his calzones.  My admiration for Bob goes beyond his food.  He goes to remarkable lengths to serve our community and our schools.

I see Bob at Rotary most Wednesday mornings.  He gets up extremely early each week to serve us breakfast.  He certainly doesn’t charge us enough to make it worth his while.  But, Bob’s support of the club is in line with the Rotary motto: Service above Self.

Bob provides untold amounts of support to our schools, too.  He says yes, probably way too often, without hesitation when asked for support by local schools, soccer teams, and many other grops.  He provides discounted food for numerous school events.  Bob also supports a mill levy override – even though commercial property owners like Bob will be hit hardest by an increase in property taxes.  Bob understands the importance of good schools.  Good schools are good business.

Bob holds no official positions in our community.  He is a typical small business owner, tending to his business most hours of the day.  Bob also is a true public servant.

I encourage you to visit Abbondanza Pizzeria.

Sandra Day O’Connor

April 22, 2008

Last Thursday, I experienced one of the perks of serving on the school board.  I was invited to attend a conversation with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

I have had the privilege to meet a few people who hold (or have held) high office.  My experience is that people in these positions operate on a different plane than the rest of us – certainly I on higher plane than I operate.  That is certainly true of Justice O’Connor.  The confidence, optimism and get it done attitude are palpable.  She, and others I’ve met at this level, radiate a different type of energy.

It was a real treat to be able to meet her.

Justice O’Connor was in Boulder to speak about her efforts to renew a commitment to civic education in our classrooms.  Part of this effort includes an initiative known as Our Courts.  Justice O’Connor also is working with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.