Timothy D. Kanold, PhD
Keynote address: School of Education
What will I give you to remember me by?
© Timothy D. Kanold, PhD, May 2013
Welcome, President Garanzini, Dean Williams, members of the Deans Party, faculty, family, friends and especially graduates. It is an honor and a privilege for me to present this commencement address today…
In the end, all I really wanted to say—all I really could say—was thank you. It would be my 15th and final message as superintendent to the faculty and staff at Stevenson High School District 125. After 21 years at Stevenson and 35 years of teaching and leading, I was retiring from education in Illinois.
And it felt so final.
The auditorium that day was filled with a lot of school heroes whom I respected, loved, and admired. They were educators just like you—like each of our Loyola graduates today: Dedicated to the call of teaching, leading, and serving others as part of their life’s work.
It was June 6, 2007. Our faculty and staff had a lot on their minds as they entered the auditorium. End-of-year grades and reports were due the next day. Many faculty work areas and classrooms were being boxed up. Activities and decisions were being made at a staccato pace. It was a circus-like atmosphere, as everyone had to stop at 1:45 p.m. and come together for our end-of-year celebration.
Many of you here today know this exact experience. You have been there. You are there. You will be there. You will wrap up one season of your professional life in May or June, and begin another season the following August. And then there will come this day—when you do not get to open up your boxes for another season. The cycle of seasons will be over. The boxes will stay closed. There will be no going back. And somehow, you understand that life always plays in a forward direction; there is no rewind button.
I had gone through this “saying goodbye” ritual every June for many years. Only this time, it was more personal—I was one of those leaving, and not coming back.
I kept thinking, What am I leaving behind? What have I given those who are staying to remember me by?
And so must you.
As you graduate today, you must ask, “As I build my life forward from this wonderful and hard-fought-for graduation moment in time, ‘What will I give others to remember me by?’ ”
It had occurred to me that if I was looking to write and design a final message to remember me by, it was a little late. I had had more than 20 years—more than 4,500 days’ worth of opportunities to build any type of service, impact, inspiration, and positive influence on others.
And so will you.
As you sit and stand here today, celebrating the victory and achievement of this graduation moment, you have so many seasons ahead of you. And to paraphrase Robert Quinn, you will “build your legacy bridge as you walk on it.” Just as I had left a legacy and built my bridge at Stevenson—one way or the other, for good or for bad—so will you in your classroom, school, district, community and mental health organization, college, or university.
And much of that bridge will be cemented in so many of the “In the service of social justice” lessons embedded in every phase of your learning experiences at this great institution we call Loyola.
In attendance that final day at Stevenson were faculty and staff members who, like some of you, weren’t born when I started teaching. For them, this final day, “end of my final season” feeling, was too far down the road to touch.
Just like you, they had plenty of time to figure it out, right?
How would I reach them, I wondered. Why bother them with a legacy-building speech? Why bother you with a legacy building speech today? Why worry about a distant dilemma? Because I knew from experience that we don’t always get to name the terms of our own “What will I give you to remember me by” moment.
The days seem to go slowly, yet there is a reality that the years go fast. Didn’t you just enter Loyola? And yet, here you are today. How did it go by so fast, you wonder?
Before you know it, you are six, 11, or 18 years into establishing the foundation of your impact on others. You reflect and ask:
What are the concrete criteria I should use as a basis for knowing?
Today, I suggest four categories worthy of your pursuit.
First, did you pay attention to others deeply?
Is it possible there are individuals you could have loved more deeply or encouraged more often? “Someday I’ll get around to noticing and paying attention to others better,” you say. But someday never comes.
During my early years at Stevenson, I encountered a burned-out cynical faculty member. He was 47 years old and hanging on until he could retire in eight years. I did not pay much attention to him. My work was too demanding, and he was very difficult to work with. Eventually a very negative community reaction to his poor performance led to several difficult summer nights of discussions between the two of us about what it meant to finish well.
To his credit, this teacher spent the next four years of his professional life choosing no-regret decisions—laughing more, learning more, listening to his colleagues, appreciating his students more and re-engaging with his family. And then one September evening, at age 51, he did not wake up from his sleep. His chance to choose a no-regrets life was over. His retirement day was not to come.
He left behind a more recent institutional memory of loving others deeply. He made the decision to finish well—before it was too late. How awesome. How courageous.
You paid attention to others deeply…would be a great… what will I give you to remember me by part of your legacy.
Second, did you become a servant leader?
Daniel Goleman describes social intelligence as much more than being about our relationships; it is also about being in them. He writes:
The social responsiveness of the brain demands that we be wise, that we realize how not just our moods but our very biology is being driven by the other people in our lives—and in turn, it demands that we take stock of how we effect other people’s emotions and biology. Indeed, we can take the measure of a relationship in terms of a person’s impact on us, and on ours on them.
Those in your N-S-E-W sphere won’t remember you so much for what you do and did for yourself. They will remember what you do and did for them.
Robert Greenleaf wrote:
The servant leader is servant first . . . it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society: Will they benefit or, at least, not be further deprived?
Long after you have left the building, will there be a positive residue of service that permeates from the impact of your work?
You were a servant leader. You made me want to become a better person would be another great what will I give you to remember me by part of your legacy.
Third, did you forgive others gracefully?
The very nature of communication among educators during a school year guarantees feelings will be hurt, someone will be wounded, and grace will be needed.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote:
The people we work with and count on are also human. We need to give them the same opportunities we afford ourselves to try and fail and try again. We need to give them the chance to be the best they can be, even to be better than they thought they could be. We need to support them in their growth and help them to recognize that the journey is not about perfection but about becoming fully human . . . Let’s all have the humility to remember where we started and the humanity to offer others the same opportunities.
Gracewins out in the workplace when we set down the grudges we are carrying around. Gracewins when we use forgiveness to help others become better people. Grace and gratitude are critical elements of joy. Will there be grace and joy given to others, in your journey? You must decide.
You created a culture of forgiveness, grace, and joy… would be another great… what will I give you to remember me by… part of your legacy.
Fourth, did you live a reflective, balanced high-energy life?
Their biggest fear of most seasoned school educators is endurance. How do you endure and sustain a high level of inspiration year in and year out? You have a right to an inspirational presence in your life and you have a responsibility to become one for others.
Yet, the pace of your teaching, leading, and serving days will leave you emotionally and physically exhausted. And the more tired you are, the less positive energy you will have for the demands of the fast-paced work that lies ahead.
You will naturally drift toward anger, fear, impatience, defensiveness, resentment, and exhaustion. How do you avoid high negative energy? You strategically disengage from the high positive energy of your work life.
If you do not practice to get better at strategic disengagement into low positive energy reflection time activities, you will eventually end up bitter, frustrated, and ineffective. Your legacy bridge will collapse. You will not be able to pay attention to others more deeply. You will not become a servant leader, and you will not be able to treat others with grace. When you become a more reflective practitioner, you avoid the malady of job fatigue: low energy, disengagement from work, superficial effort, and poor judgment.
The stakes are high.
In “The Secret Ailment,”John W. Gardner wrote:
We cannot dream of a utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous—an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. Every important battle is fought and re-fought…
Every important battle in your life will need to be fought and re-fought. I thought, what a great statement about the perseverance necessary to become an inspiring teacher, servant and leader! Never give up hope. Never give up on grace. Never give in to the drift toward negative energy and mediocrity.
You demonstrated how to live a reflective, balanced and enduring life… would be another great… what will I give you to remember me by part of your legacy.
As a Loyola graduate today, you are prepared for just such an educational and inspirational life. You will choose and build the story of how you will be remembered every day, one brick at a time. Your teaching. Your serving. Your story. Will end some day, but may the gift of who you are linger in the memory of those you leave behind. And may those of us that will be blessed enough to have known you, may we never forget it.