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“The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, Consequences: The Susan Boyle in all of Us
Thank you. Let me hear that again. Louder. Louder so they can hear you outside. I want you to know that the applause you’re sharing is not for me. It’s for you. I want you to know like Eleanor Roosevelt once said…“no one can make you feel inferior except yourself.”
Good evening. I hope after that show of appreciation for yourselves, i can complement it by sharing how much i appreciate being here. I understand the current topic is “the paradox of affluence,” which to me means “with honor comes responsibility,” or “to much is given, much is expected.”
It’s ironic that once you’ve earned something you have to prove you’re worth it. I know each of you are. Being inducted into this organization is not by chance. There are things you have sacrificed to be here. I know that, and tonight i won’t add to that sacrifice. I promise i won’t talk too long…maybe 60 minutes. No, just teasing…I’ll briefly discuss three things: choices, challenges and consequences, and end with a story.
The first thing is choice. You are here because you chose to be here. You didn’t just wake up one morning and say i’m going to have a 3.5 GPA. You didn’t just decide one day you were going to be a member of phi theta kappa. No. You worked hard. You earned the right. And chose to go a bit farther—that extra mile and let the world know what you’ve done. That’s a fact.
When people Google you they’ll see you’re a member of this illustrative organization. They will know you are a nerd, like me. Glasses and all, but you’re much better looking. You know why i have my PhD? Because instead of climbing trees or playing cowboys and Indians like a lot of the kids i grew up with…i liked school and any excuse i had…i went. Why do you think i teach? Because i like my students? Duh? No! Really, i love my students but i really like school! I love sharing my passion with those who will someday replace me. Students like yourselves who fulfill what one of my college professors, dr. Al Yeomans, told me, “whatever you are able to bring to your students pales significantly when contrasted with what your students bring to you.”
You have, i’m sure in some capacity done that, and i’m honored to be here! Life is about choices. No matter what degrees you have, what profession you choose, even who you marry, you have to be selective, extremely selective about those choices, especially as you look to see whose shoes you are about to fill.
Former congressman J. C. Watts said ‘character is doing the right thing when no one is looking.’ I challenge you to make the right choice. I challenge you to do the right thing. No one knows what’s within you except you and maybe whatever concept you might have of god. You choose. Like i chose to go back to school to get my doctorate. It’s never too late to fulfill your dream and only you can let your dreams die. Remember it’s about choices.
The second thing I’ll address is challenge. Understand it takes a courageous person to dream a dream and never let it die, and i challenge you to take up the gauntlet. Choose carefully. Enjoy the counsel of your faculty, friends and family and take the path you want. Don’t think you can’t win the big prize. Be Susan Boyle who dreamed of being like Elaine Paige. And if you don’t know who Susan Boyle is, that’s one of the first challenges i want you to accept before you leave. Remember Susan Boyle as I challenge you to do something uncomfortable for you, nothing illegal, mind you. But i want you to go outside the box. One week-end instead of going out with friends, go to the library. Find a book that might have been banned. Learn why. Read a classic like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a majestic book. Google it! I want you to grow! And as you grow, realize like the sturdy oak, if you’re rooted well, you might bend in the wind but you’ll learn you won’t break. Reach for the stars. They belong as much to you as they do to the sibling who might not want to share, the girlfriend who broke your heart, or the teacher who gave you what you earned. Grow. And learn to give back. That’s how I got here; sharing what people gave me because they saw someone who dreamed and they believed I was worth it. The challenge I accepted was if I didn’t give up, I’d get the prize. It wasn’t easy. All of us are diamonds in the rough…created that way for a reason, so we would find our own way to be all we could…an original that no one has ever seen before. I challenge you to test yourself, keep your eye on the prize and never lose sight of it. Remember “the stone cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.”
So we’ve talked about choices. We’ve talked about challenges, now let’s talk about consequences. We all make mistakes. Some make more than others, but the biggest consequence that faces us is failure. Michael Jordan tells us you only fail if you quit. So don’t stop pursuing your dream. “If you stop improving your game, your game stops improving,” I told one of our adjunct professors. Ask any athlete or teacher. If I don’t stay on top of things my students will be bored out of their minds, and I can’t blame them. I chose to be a teacher. Every semester I challenge myself to find a new and better way to meet them head on; otherwise I face the consequences of students who are uninspired, unenlightened and potentially emptier after having taken my class than before they started.
You come to my office you will see certain quotes. Two i’m particularly fond of: one says… “Mine is to empower, not enable you.” The other came from a student. “I’m in it, to win it.” Can you say that? Louder. That should be your charter, no matter what might happen…your goal is to not quit, only when you stop trying do you become a failure and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Can you feel me?
Okay…I’ve talked about my three points. Hopefully I’ve said something you can take, keep and use. I’m going to close with the story i promised at the start that illustrates my three points but i want to share something one of the administrators told me. “Dr. Wortham, it’s 4:30 Friday, and you’re still at your desk. Why am I not surprised?” Now that could have meant a lot of things. Maybe I had no place to go. Maybe I was so unorganized and stupid it took me extra time to do what other faculty members had figured out. But I knew what she meant. I was there trying to make something a bit better. Or the truth be known find something on my desk. People notice you. You are who you are and no one can change that. It is what it is. Now the story i promised. It comes from an email a friend sent me, and speaks volumes about unearthing a passion and making a difference.
"Her name was Mrs. Thompson. As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
"Mrs. Thompson had watched teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were a mess and that he constantly needed a bath. And teddy could be unpleasant.
It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold x’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.
"At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.
"Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners. He is a joy to be around.”
"His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”
"His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death had been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”
"Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.”
"By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem, and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper…except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thomson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrists. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mother used to.”
"After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, and writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class, and despite the lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.”
"A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
"Six years went by before she got another note from teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
"Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had in his whole life.
"Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer—the letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M. D.
"But the story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did.
And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.
"They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that i could make a difference.”
"Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”
So… I want each of you to please remember that wherever you go, and whatever you do, you have the opportunity to touch and/or change a person’ outlook. Please try to do it in a positive way.
So you have a choice. You can make a difference or you can take what I said today and forget it. You can make someone’s life better, you can call a friend, help a neighbor. It’s your choice, but I challenge you to do something. Many times it doesn’t take much to change a person’s life. But here’s the consequence. I’m not good with names; i’m terrible in fact, it’s something I need to work on. But if I see you somewhere years from now, and you remember this night, and you feel challenged enough to come up to me and remind me, then be ready for the consequence because I will ask you: “did you make a difference? Did you heed the words I said tonight?” And the deepest consequence is answering me truthfully and realizing it was not for me…not for you, but for those who needed us both…that’s the paradox of affluence—taking and giving what you have and realizing that’s what life is about. Realizing what Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull wrote, “Here’s a test to see if your mission in life is complete; if you’re alive, then it isn’t.”
God bless you and good luck.