December 9, 2006

Graduation Address, December 8, 2006

Graduation Address by Rodger G. Coleman
Southeastern Career College
December 8, 2006

My fellow graduates, faculty and staff of Southeastern Career College, families, and friends, we are gathered here this evening to celebrate a great accomplishment and to look forward to a great opportunity. I am honored to have been asked to speak to you and I hope that my words will reflect some of the thoughts, feelings, and aspirations of my classmates.

In an essay entitled, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man,” Albert Einstein wrote: “Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared towards the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.” According to Einstein, “only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.”

My experience at Southeastern Career College has convinced me that Mr. Einstein is correct. On behalf of my class, I would like to thank the staff and faculty of Southeastern Career College. Every one of you embody Einstein’s ideal with your boundless dedication to your students’ education. I want to thank you not only for the knowledge and expertise you so generously shared with us, but also for your enthusiasm, humor, and compassion. Thank you all.

I personally want to thank Mr. Joe Childress, with whom I had the pleasure of taking a number of classes. On the first day of my first class with Mr. Childress, he began by saying, in that inimitable voice: “Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a hard-ass.” Maybe being a little bit of a hard-ass is part of what makes Mr. Childress such an effective teacher. Mr. Childress is truly one of the very best teachers I’ve ever had, for any subject, anywhere. With only six weeks in which to learn a semester’s worth of material, it was something like trying to drink from a fire-hose. But Mr. Childress has a remarkable gift in his ability to make the most complex concepts understandable – indeed fascinating -- to every student in the classroom. He is deadly serious about the subject matter yet often laugh-out-loud funny and everyone walked out of every class having really learned something. My only regret for having graduated this program is that I will not have the privilege of taking another class with Mr. Childress. Thank you, Mr. Childress.

I want to especially thank my mom and dad; both of whom I wish could be here tonight. I was talking with my mom the other night about graduating and what this diploma means and she told me a story about my dad that I’d like to share with you all. My dad grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression and was the first person in his family to ever go to college. Through his own hard work and with the help of the GI Bill, my dad earned a degree from the University of Texas and was promptly hired to work for a big corporation in Houston. His boss at that time was a kindly and mentoring fellow and one day my dad asked him, “Why did you hire me? I didn’t really know anything about this business. What did the degree mean to you?” His boss replied, “The degree didn’t mean that you knew anything, but that you knew how to learn.” Thank you, Mom & Dad.

I also want to thank another great teacher, Ms. Diane Kuhn for not only giving life to a class about wills and estates, but for recommending me to an attorney friend of hers, Mr. Martin Sir, when he was looking for student to work part-time in his law office. And I want to thank Mr. Sir for taking a chance and hiring me almost a year ago when I was barely half way through the program and really didn’t have a clue about the reality of a law office. But, he trusted that I knew how to learn. This generosity of spirit is indicative of Mr. Sir’s devotion to public service that manifests itself not only in his law practice, but also in his community activism and his spiritual life. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to apply what I was learning in class to the service of actual clients and for the opportunity to learn more every day. I am now proud to be a full time paralegal at the Law Office of Martin Sir. Thank you, Ms. Kuhn and Mr. Sir.

Finally, I want to thank my beautiful and marvelous wife, Elizabeth for marrying me more than 12 years ago, for believing in me, and for being so supportive of my returning to school so late in life. Elizabeth is a constant inspiration to me. As a reference librarian at the Nashville Public Library, Elizabeth truly lives a life in service of others. Now that we know how to learn, we know how valuable a nice library and a helpful and knowledgeable librarian can be. The Nashville Public Library downtown is one of the most wonderful libraries in the world. As paralegals – as citizens - we should be grateful for such a library and librarians so magnificent. Thank you, Elizabeth. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And so, my fellow graduates, let us now celebrate our great accomplishment: we have learned many things, but most importantly, we have learned how to learn. As paralegals, we will have a duty to continue learning and Southeastern Career College has enabled us to fulfill that duty. As we go forward, the work that we will be doing as paralegals will have a profound impact on people’s lives, and it is an awesome responsibility. So, let us also rejoice in this wonderful opportunity: we now have the opportunity to live a life worth living: a life lived in the service of others.

Congratulations, Class of 2006.


Christopher Murray said...

Rodger, this is a beautiful speech. I hadn't realized you graduated last night. I am very, very proud of you and very happy that you have finished (and done so well!). Valedictorian ... damn. Good for you. Like you say, a great accomplishment and now a great opportunity.

For my part, I'm still in the thick of it and won't graduate until June ;-(.

Anyway, I hope you and Lizzy had a fine celebration. You deserve it.

Christopher Murray said...

Oh, and by the way ... I know your Dad would have been especially proud of you.

Rodger Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rodger Coleman said...

Good Morning, Christopher!

I was hoping to see you here.

Let's schedule a telephone conference somtime!



Anonymous said...

What a pleasure to read your wonderful comments.
I wish we had been able to be there in person
to witness such an important event.
We are so proud of you and what you have accomplished - and your future accomplishments, too.
We are also proud of Lizzy for helping you reach
your goal.
Congratulations and much love,
Jan and Steve

Sam Byrd said...

Congratulations, Rodger. As everyone else has said, wonderful speech. And thanks to your "big ears," I've been learning how to learn, and how to listen, for years and years now!