Caroline S. Turner
Greetings Everyone! Bienvenidos! Congratulations graduates! Congratulations also to all of your family and friends gathered here today, in person and in spirit, to recognize, honor, and celebrate you! Thank you Dean Lindstrom and Chancellor May for honoring me with your invitation to speak at this year’s School of Education spring graduation. I am proud to be a Cal Aggie and very happy to be here with you today.
The UC Davis School of Education holds a special place in my educational journey. A journey that has taken me from working as a farm laborer in Hollister, California to becoming the first in my family to go to college, to having the opportunity to serve for over 30 plus years as a professor of education at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, at Arizona State University – Tempe Campus, and now at Sacramento State, where I was named Interim Dean of the College of Education.
During this time, I was also elected to serve as President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). I say all of this to fully recognize the importance of the academic foundation provided to me by attending the University of California at Davis, a top ranked institution and now, an Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), by attending the School of Education, and interacting with many of the path breaking educators I met here.
In 1963, I entered UCD as a freshman, with the music of the Beatles blasting out of every dorm room window and the Civil Rights and Farm Labor movements underway. I want to point out that what made it financially possible for me to enroll at UC Davis was being awarded, over 50 years ago, a Cal Aggie Alumni Association (CAAA) scholarship. I recall riding my bicycle to class as most students still do. With the growth of the student population, I have to say, however, I don’t believe that today I would survive the bike circles on campus.
In 1970, I sat where you are now as a graduate of the first Master of Arts program offered by the Education Department before it became a School of Education. I am so fortunate to be an educator – to help others grow their talents just as my mentors, family, friends, and colleagues have helped me to grow. For their continued support, I want to publicly thank my family, including my two sisters in the audience, and would like to thank my UC Davis School of Education family, including Dr. Douglas Minnis and Dr. George Yonge who always knew that I could succeed in college even when I did not know.
Indeed, the journey toward accomplishment and achievement in any endeavor is not done in isolation but with the support of others willing to travel with you, providing encouragement along each step of the journey, helping you to overcome self-doubt, to achieve more than you thought possible, to overcome challenges, and, as we are doing today, to be here to celebrate your milestones.
Think back on all of the individuals who supported you along the way. I hope that you will go out into the world and be that support for somebody else. Be that person who others point to and say, “They believed in me. They saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. They gave me the courage to dream dreams and make choices I never considered.”
There were many challenges along my path toward each of my degrees and at every transition. Likely there were challenges, some unexpected, in your journey to the degree you will be awarded today, but you persevered. I would look forward to hearing your stories. Transitions can be rocky and interventions can be miraculous. Here is one such story for me which took place at UC Davis.
My father always wanted us to do whatever we did to the best of our ability. Little did I know that being a good farm laborer in Hollister, California would be critical to my being able to stay at UC, Davis. Doing an exceptional job in one arena had unpredictable ramifications for me in a seemingly unrelated future.
At the end of my freshman year, due to a multitude of transition challenges and a debilitating illness which caused me to be hospitalized, I held a passing grade point average, but could not stay at UC Davis as my scholarship money was running out. In fact, I was packing my bags to leave when I heard a knock on the door.
There stood a tall man with a beard and a field hat offering me a job working on the experimental tomato fields at UCD. He had heard from Dr. Pearson, his colleague in Hollister and one of my former bosses, that I was in Davis and would be a good worker who was able to tolerate the sun and who would also understand the nature of the work he was doing. It was a miracle! I now had a job and could pay my way through school.
I never dreamed as I helped to plant, label, cross pollinate, and harvest squash and melons for a seed company that this would later translate into a job at a critical juncture of my college life. Later, I was to learn that the man at the door was Dr. Charlie Rick, a renowned plant geneticist, who was the foremost authority on tomato genetics.
This experience made me realize what thin threads connect first generation college goers to their campuses. It also exemplifies how a simple intervention might prevent such departures. Later, as I conducted my dissertation research and subsequent research as a faculty member, I observed that these thin threads and critical interventions were documented many times over.
In retrospect, I have to say that I grew up as a Latina/Filipina doing fieldwork, then worked my way through UC Davis doing fieldwork as an undergraduate, and now, to this day, as a qualitative researcher, I find it amusing that I still find myself doing field work.
As each of you prepares to step out into the field of education as new graduates and future educators, others are looking up to you and listening to your words. In a passing comment, one of my professors said that I should consider becoming a professor. Something I had not thought about. His encouragement attracted me to enter his profession; and underscored for me the importance of what we say in our roles as teacher, professor, advisor, and administrator. What we say can encourage or discourage others to consider their options, to think deeply about their purpose in life, and/or to pursue their hopes and dreams.
As leaders, in addition to the support you can provide to individuals, you will also have opportunities to create inclusive and welcoming school and campus learning environments. Environments where the thin threads I just described can be strengthened with intentional organizational interventions that support the retention and success of all students.
You will be asked to address major challenges. For example, reports state that across California hundreds of thousands of students aren’t receiving the education needed to succeed in college, career, and beyond. You will have a great opportunity to promote much needed systemic change. In this regard, the significance of the leadership many of you will provide cannot be overstated.
I believe in the transformative power of education. To seek out new knowledge is to seek out transformation for yourself; this transformation will also impact those around you, including your family and community. Having an education can provide choices, options, and opportunities, but most of all, it provides perspectives that can help one to explore new vistas, to create new horizons, and to make the world a better place.
The University of California Davis School of Education played a major part in expanding, revitalizing and helping me to better understand my world. Knowledge gained during my years as an undergraduate and graduate student, and as a professor at three large universities connects to the knowledge gained from my home community. My educational journey brings me to today. Today, I have a deeper understanding of the value of all knowledge, including knowledge learned during my childhood at home and within my community. The spirit of this journey is reflected in T.S. Eliot’s quote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I interpret this as seeing familiar landscapes with new eyes, with new perspectives. One cannot arrive at this point, however, without going on the journey.
In conclusion, as each of you graduates, my heartfelt congratulations and my best wishes on your continued journeys! There will be many challenges, many peaks and valleys; you may have setbacks, and you may have failures, but you will persevere as you have done thus far. Recognize the courage and greatness that lies in each of you. While doing this, remember to be kind to yourself and to others. Bravo!!!
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