Don McLean, a pop culture poet to at least one of the generations gathered in this room today, writes…
A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.
This has been a most unusual year for us at UVM. With the lives taken at a sister institution in Blacksburg, VA, we end our year in tragedy; and with the taking of lives of those close to us, on August 24th 2006, and sometime in the hours between October 4th and October 6th, 2006, we began our year in tragedy. I speak of Michelle Gardner Quinn, a student of environmental studies at UVMs Rubenstein School, whose time with us is to be celebrated tomorrow in at EARTHFEST 07, and Alicia Shanks, a second grade teacher at Essex Elementary School. Alicia was a mentor to students in our professional programs in elementary education and early childhood education. Alicia was also a member of the council of advisors to our Professional Program in Elementary Education; two people who didn’t know each other, two people whose manner of living life touched those around them in ways still being discovered. We wanted to take a moment to recognize Alicia at the beginning of this honors day ceremony.
I knew Alicia personally and professionally. We worked together supervising students she agreed to mentor in the intense student teaching phase of their eled preparation. You, Alicia, would demur, I think, the honor, attention, and accolades that have accrued to you since your sudden incomprehensible death. If there was ever anyone who walked the face of this earth with feet planted firmly on the ground, it was you Alicia. You were as many have remarked, salt of the earth and you had an uncanny ability to spot anyone or any program effort that seemed to you to be putting on airs. Sooner than later one of us would get a phone call and have a little talk about what was on your mind. You possessed a constantly open heart for your school children, especially those growing up in challenging circumstances, as you did. And yet knowing you well, I think without a doubt you were the last one to let a child pull the wool over your eyes in an attempt to do less than that little girl or boy was capable of. And you were always was quite clear that you would be the judge of that “capability.”
These dispositions are a good thing to keep in mind as we head into this important and joyful ceremony of recognition. The really good teachers of this world see in us what may be unseen by us. And in their own way – sometimes inspirational, sometime provocative, sometimes downright irritating – they provide a certain urging that moves us over time in those directions. The disposition towards creating instructional environments that support the actualization of self, of becoming not who we are but who we are growing to be, is one of the hallmarks of the professional programs honoring students here today. We like to think we know something about how to do this.
I would like to suggest, that these two people did, too. I also think they knew, that even when the music dies in one place, when you can bring yourself to listen really carefully once again, when the shock begins to dissipate, what begins to awaken in our dulled spirits is the sound of other musics to be heard. John Dewey constantly reminded us as their lives did, that there is music all around us in the communal spheres in which we live. Other people’s music. The music of other journeys. And this communal music, when we finally hear it, is the music that sustains us and beckons us to move on. Ultimately, this is the music that will redeem us, this is the music that is grace, even through the thickest of tears.
So we thank you Alicia, and we thank you Michelle, and we thank all the teachers who work with us in all our programs, for walking with us on the communal journey we take with each one of our students. The journeys we celebrate here today. Welcome, each one of you, parents, students, honorees, grandparents, faculty, friends, honored guest, to Honors Day, 2007. Let us celebrate and let us feel in the deep places of our hearts, the joyful music generated by the lived lives of those we honor today.