Dr. Gary Seastrand is the director of the Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling in the David O. McKay School of Education. On April 22, 2016, he began his convocation talk,
Graduates, Families, and Friends,
What a wonderful occasion this is to gather in celebration of one of life’s great accomplishments. Today marks the culmination of years of study and preparation, and yet it is also a compelling announcement to the world that you are ready and anxious to take your place in your chosen career, where you will begin to apply what you have learned from inspired professors. To parents, family, and friends of the graduates, thank you for your faith, support and watchful care over these loved ones. Their success is your success.
I stand before you today as a humble and grateful educator. I have reflected upon my own career in education and can’t help but enthusiastically anticipate the great possibilities that lie before you.
Recently a very good friend of mine asked me this question: “If you could go back in time and choose a different career, what would you choose?” My response was immediate and unequivocal: “I would NOT change anything. My career in education was perfect for me.”
What prompted my affirmation of a career choice that has been so richly rewarding? Here is but a little sample of what I came up with:
SERVICE—Service underscores the work you will do as graduates from the McKay School of Education, whether you serve by teaching in a classroom, leading a school, working with individuals with communication disorders or other special needs, or designing and creating learning paths. In a life of service, the joy of the work is sweet and rich. Inherent compensation for your service will far exceed monetary rewards other fields may offer.
CREATIVITY—Creativity is valued and supported. Walt Disney stated, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” There is plenty of room to dream and do in your career. As a school principal, I marveled at the creative ways teachers helped students learn important concepts or lessons. From arts to science to reading and writing—if you dream it, you can do it.
FUN—Schools are fun and full of funny people. For example, recess—now that is fun. Can’t you just hear the first grader telling you something his dad and mom said—and you are thinking to yourself, “Gee, I hope none of my kids have said anything like that” as you walk away laughing to yourself. As an elementary school principal, I had a young child run into my office exclaiming, “Someone wrote the 'F' word in the bathroom and it starts with an 'S.'” Indeed, someone had written the word “stupid” in crayon on the bathroom partition.
FRIENDSHIP—You will see that your colleagues are driven by high moral ideals and standards. There is an altruism that grounds the work. Altruism is defined as “an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” The sense of moral purpose is the thread of gold that is woven throughout the fabric of a service profession. This golden thread represents bonds of unity, love, and compassion as you work with like-minded professionals.
INSPIRATION—You are all pursuing inspired work. To quote Elder Neil A. Anderson, “God loves children; He loves all children.” Because He loves them, He wants what is best for them. For children to rise to their potential, they need to be taught in all forms of learning. Nephi began his writing of the Book of Mormon by acknowledging that he had been taught in the language of his father. In order for him to make his record, he needed the knowledge and skills of reading and writing. Yours will be a divine role in helping children and youth learn.
I could go on with several more reasons why being an educator has been so significant in my life. But now I wish to share with you some important thoughts I have regarding what comes next.
I challenge you to lead an inspired life. You are indeed entitled to personal inspiration that will enable you to help and serve those you encounter in your chosen career. Several years ago, I was faced with a difficult challenge. It was discovered that a dear friend of mine, who was a principal, had made some choices that betrayed the trust of the community. It was heartbreaking. With the school in chaos and the community in turmoil, the superintendent and I met to seek a course of action. We knew we needed a wise and compassionate path. We determined to sequester ourselves and kneel in humble prayer, seeking divine guidance. At the conclusion of the prayer, we shared our thoughts and found that we had both felt inspired toward a particular course of action. We knew exactly what to do and proceeded to follow the plan. We announced our plan, and within hours the community was at peace and the school was able to quickly move forward. Do not be afraid to seek divine guidance when you are troubled with a professional concern or stymied with a problem. If the worth of souls is great in the sight of the Lord, then surely you can be led to know how to bless those souls with whom you work.
Be a Good Samaritan. Since childhood I have been intrigued by the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was pursuing his normal travels when he happened upon a person in great need. Without hesitation he stopped what he was doing and proceeded to care for the injured man. In your career you will see many who are injured, defeated, intimidated, or afraid. The time you take to bind up the wounded will be time well given. In my first year of teaching, I had a 10-year-old boy who was challenging. In visiting with his mother, I found that his father was a fighter pilot who had been shot down in Vietnam and was missing in action, likely never to return to his family. My heart went out to this child. He was hurting inside. Through conscious effort, I found many ways to give him additional attention, build him up, and let him know I loved him. Both of our lives were blessed. Treat each person with compassion and love. When dealing with a challenging person, you might ask, “What do I need to know and understand to better care for this individual?”
Seek personal learning and growth. I am sure you are quite aware that you are leaving the university with a beginning knowledge that will allow you to competently navigate in your work environment. Even those of you with graduate degrees are preparing to continue in the path of learning. It is true that we learn line upon line, precept upon precept, both spiritually and professionally. You will acquire new knowledge that comes from engaging in practice. But that isn’t enough. In Doctrine and Covenants 109:7 we are admonished, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” Read and study from experts in your professional work. Learn from peers and colleagues. Remember, in practice there is always “good, better, and best.” You can’t get to best without coming to understand good and better. Not everything you do will be worthy of the time you allocate or the effort you expend. Therefore, be reflective. Reflection can illuminate the better by tweaking the good and discarding the bad. The late great John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” And Abraham Lincoln noted, “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
Collaborate with your colleagues. Isolation is the enemy to improvement. There is nothing wrong with sharing your own and others’ effective ideas and practices. Professional teams that function collaboratively gain in both knowledge and intrinsic motivation. At times doing so may require a good deal of patience and humility, but the benefits of combined efforts will be abundant. Remember, constantly seeking improvement is a gospel principle and leads toward significant outcomes.
Control your attitude. What makes some professionals unhappy and negative while others are positive and full of life? In Proverbs 23:7 we read, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” You alone have full control over how you think. If you choose to see the good, you will find it. If you dwell on the negative, you’ll find plenty to go around. But your character will be reflected in your choice. Choose positive, for that is what our Savior would expect. Be a light on a hill, not a cloud drizzling rain. James Allen penned these words in his popular work As a Man Thinketh:
Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:—
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.
Now I conclude by acknowledging the great potential that lies within each of you. You have chosen wisely, for surely your life will be filled with service befitting a servant of God. As graduates of the McKay School of Education, you are indeed keepers of hope. You affect the ages, for you guide and influence young and old. Remember this: there is not a single gospel principle that will not make you a better professional. Seek to live the gospel.
See to it that you recognize your significant stewardship. What would the Savior ask of graduates of this university, which represents His Church and His gospel? Lift the weary and the downtrodden; comfort those who are in need of comfort. Give hope. Be of good cheer. Love others.
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." —Matthew 25:40
You are about to embark on a great journey of learning, teaching, service, and love. This is a new beginning. Bring together all you have learned to enrich all you will do. As Winston Churchill expressed so eloquently,
Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.
To Collin, my son who is graduating today, I am proud of you and excited for you. May you find the same abundance in your career that I have found in mine.
God bless all of you in your noble pursuits.