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Commencement Address: Dr. Cheryl D. Cardell

August 14, 2009
by Dr. Cheryl D. Cardell

Vice President, Commission on Colleges
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Dean Gerlach, Dean Poster, Distinguished Faculty,  Illustrious Support Staff, Special Guests, Family, Friends and most importantly, the members of the CLASS OF 2009, I bring you greetings on behalf of the 800 sister institutions that comprise the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. (Better known as SACS).   We, along with the UT Arlington College of Education and College of Nursing faculty, staff and administrators who contributed to your educational experience extend congratulations and stand with you today to mark this occasion.  

So many of you have come so far and overcame so much to achieve the success of this day. For those of you who helped create the circumstances that assisted your graduate achieve their dreams, it is a delight to see you here at this milestone.  Whether you’re celebrating your own accomplishments or those of someone for whom you care a great deal, this is a day of thanksgiving and acknowledgment of the fact that “what is hard to endure is sweet to recall (Continental proverb).”  

It is especially a privilege to be here because for 17 years UTA was my ‘home’.  And today, this fine home that facilitates diversity, embraces innovation, adaptability and change, celebrates a cadre of competent leaders; all you graduates. I can’t quite describe the feeling of being a part of this other than to say that I am humbled and honored to have been invited to address you.

As you know from my biographical information, I am employed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.  The Commission is charged by the U.S. Department of Education with accrediting institutions in the 11 states that make up the southeastern region (Virginia south to Florida, and as far west as the Great State of Texas!).  Educational accountability and quality enhancement of student learning are our operative words. Educational accountability means that if an institution has SACS accreditation we presume they are engaged in an ongoing program of improvement and they can demonstrate how well they are fulfilling their stated mission. Quality enhancement of student learning expects that an institution’s programs are complimented by support structures and resources that allow for the total growth and development of its students. If you’ll allow me the liberty of perhaps taking singer ‘Pink’s’ language out of context a bit, “SO WHAT!”  How does any of that relate to you? Well, working for SACS and traveling around the region to many different institutions; large publics, small privates, community colleges, for profit academy’s, etc. it is abundantly clear to me that being a UT Arlington graduate means that you have received a top-notch, quality education.  My mentor, a woman of great passion, and the former UTA Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Mary Ridgway defines a quality education as a connected set of experiences with intellect, heart and soul! My own experience at this institution leads me to conclude that all of you have been exposed to this model at UTA, effectively preparing and positioning you well for what is ahead.  And yes, I may be biased, but that doesn’t make me wrong!  I also base the truth of your quality education on some research I did in preparation for my time here with you today. In a recent issue of The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, the topic of a need for innovative nursing technologies is discussed. Specifically, there is reference to the use of simulation techniques as a vital education link between instruction and information (didactic content) and sound clinical experience. For the College of Nursing, the Smart Hospital and Health System has provided UTA graduates with leading edge innovations in health care education.  In the College of Education, one need only look to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education proceedings from a recent day spent on Capitol Hill.  In the published proceedings Innovation and Reform in Teacher Preparation, the UTA College of Education academic partnership with Higher Education Holdings is noted as providing state of the art online course creation using components developed by UT faculty.

Such innovative efforts in both of your Colleges result in increased student learning. So, graduates, the bottom line is that you are well informed professionals, skilled practitioners, and role models. Practice your talents; they will grow and become stronger, and keep in mind these words from author, Sandra Carey “never mistake knowledge for wisdom.  One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.” Today is dedicated to the hopes, the dramas, and the aspirations of all of you soon-to-be-graduates as you continue to “make a life.”  It is dedicated to the sacrifices that you have made to earn this education.  It is dedicated to the sacrifices made by your families. If I may, I would like to introduce you, the stars of tonight’s show.  Most of you in the audience know one of these graduates very well, but what do you know about them collectively?  Ok, graduates, let’s introduce you:

  1. Will all of the graduate stand – Ok, have a seat.
  2. Stand if you came to UTA within a year of high school graduation.
  3. Stand if you came to UTA more than 15 years after your high school graduation
  4. Stand if you are a 1st generation graduate
  5. Stand if you entered UTA having already earned a college degree elsewhere.
  6. Stand if you were born somewhere other than the U.S.
  7. Stand if you speak more than one language.
  8. How many of you held a job more than 30 hours a week while attending college?
  9. How many of you are parents?
  10. How many are parents, hold down a job, and are students at the same time?
  11. How many will be continuing your education next year?  

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the diverse, multi-talented, hard working individuals who make up the College of Education and College of Nursing graduates. Thank you, please be seated.

To the class of 2009, I urge you to take a few moments to thank those on whose shoulders you stood in order to get here.  That included your parents, spouses, family, friends, co-workers, and children; all who have given their support to you during the course of your college career. 

I want you to know that I know I am not the reason you’re here today but I’d like to talk for a few minutes about accountability since that is my current frame of reference. As you move into your chosen careers, you carry the responsibility of retaining the level of excellence and competitiveness we as a nation have enjoyed for many years.  But, there are fewer of you than in any other generation in modern times, so you’re going to have to carry more of the load. Pretty heavy stuff! And add to that, you will be working with more and more of my peers, because the economy won’t let us retire.  In some cases you will be supervisors, in which case we will both have to adjust to that turn of events!  In any event, along with responsibility comes personal accountability.  And in alignment with accreditation philosophy, accountability measures inherently ask the question of “are you accomplishing your mission?”  While the concept of personal accountability may encompass different points of reference and actions for different people, I’d like to share some thoughts with you and invite you to perhaps ponder some of these musings.

Being personally accountable implores one to

  • Listen to people with unconditional regard and challenging yourself to make others feel important. Never underestimate the effect you can have on people.

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Give voice to your values.  Situational or environmental demands sometimes require adjustment but aim for principled work, while validating others views!

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Be deliberative about your judgments and have confidence in them. Create ways to get the impossible done; use your understanding of what has happened in the past to help others chart a course for the future.

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Understand that there is no point in being a person of vision unless you have the will to act!  Author and playwright, Honore de Balzac said “there is no such thing as great talent without great will power.”

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Set challenging goals for yourself and apply disciplined strategies to effectively achieve your goals.  Know what’s right with you and manage it, using your priorities to keep you grounded and focused.

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Use your natural drive to challenge yourself to be as a good a finisher as you are a starter. Don’t make persistence a choice; make it a way of life!

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Value your talents and assume personal responsibility for developing them, keeping the mind set that you are never done learning. Always seek the connections between things you have learned. Sometimes, instead of answering the question, you need to question the answer.

Being personally accountable implores one to:

  • Keep the audacity to chase after your dreams. If you find yourself uninterested, ask yourself if you have become uninteresting! Use the belief you have cultivated about your inherent ability to succeed as a constant source of energy.

(Clifton & Anderson; Jacobson)

Class of 2009, reflect on your common journeys and take pride in your growth. Practicing psychologist, Dr. Mary Elaine Jacobson in her book Liberating Everyday Genius posits that everyday geniuses are everywhere in the world and that in a society addicted to final products, we have been brainwashed with the obsolete notion that giftedness is exclusively defined by academic achievement, fame and fortune. This notion effectively eliminates untold numbers of individuals from the recognized ranks and I must concur with Dr. Jacobson, in recognizing that everyday geniuses are everywhere in the world. In fact, I suggest that they are in this room, and are those of you who can and will look beyond what is obvious to design a better way to educate students or improve the practice of nursing by pulling hard to get things moving. You are the spirit and future of this society. As educators and nursing professionals, your power to touch and influence the lives of others is incalculable. You will change lives and you will save lives. You understand what it means to work with integrity, and be personally accountable for your actions. You have conviction. Thomas Moore said, “Finding the right work is like discovering your own soul in the world.” My hope for you is that you always remain engaged in the community of people that you either do serve or will serve. This graduation celebration today signifies that you are up for the challenges and victories that lie ahead of you. Those of us here are all proud of your tenacity and endurance to get to this day for it is those attributes that have lifted you up and over any obstacles. In conclusion, to you the graduates I say, whether you’re graduating Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Cum Laude, or even THANK YOU Laude, you are to be proud of yourself and the accomplishments you have achieved with the completion of the requirements for the degrees you will be awarded today.

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