Volume 25, Number 6:  May 2007

From the Chair  |  In Print  |  Panels & Presentations  |  Awards & Appointments  |  Miscellany  |  From the Editor

The Common Reader

Address to the Graduates, May 4, 2007
by Hannah Butler and Randy Marfield

outstandinggradsHannah Butler: I began this journey as a teacher in training.  I have the pleasure of teaching English in our public schools to the children that desire to learn it most.  They come to me from as near as Mexico and as far as India and Japan.  My job is to teach them English, but this experience has shown me that my students need so much more.  They need an advocate in the classrooms that place them in a silent world in the back of the room.  They need affirmation of their home culture as they negotiate a new identity as an English speaker.  They need to know that there is not one English, but many, and they need to know the appropriate contexts for these varieties in order to achieve in the classroom.

In Linguistics, we are few.  In the course of three years, I studied under three great instructors.  They never made a distinction between the full-time graduate students and me, a part-time student and full-time teacher who often showed up frazzled and exhausted.  In fact, they always provided me with opportunities to be a leader in the classroom, sharing my experiences as an ESL teacher.  In this last semester, they guided me to the end by serving happygradsas my committee, offering revisions, broadening my perceptions, and pushing me to do work that I can look back on and be proud of.  I want to thank them today: My chair, Dr. Cope; My support, Dr. Lillian; My inspiration, Dr. Aceto.  These professors have made this experience relevant and personal.  They have inspired me to grow, not only as a teacher, but also, as a person.  I want to share with you today the ways in which they have changed my life.

To Dr. Lillian -- your class marked the beginning for me in Linguistics.  And what a first impression you made.  It was sociolinguistics, and you opened my eyes to the power of language.  Language is our greatest tool.  It is central to our human experience.  How we use it defines us as members of our communities.  How we hone it defines my work as a teacher.  Your courses sparked an epiphany in my search for effective ways to teach language.  The connections I made between discourse theory and pedagogy have provided my students with meaningful ways to access English.  Language learning must be contextual and relevant.  It must be firmly grounded in the realities of today's classroom.  With your guidance, I have devised a compass that will guide my career as a teacher.  Thank you.

The task of helping my students hone their own language tools is what brought me to the English Department.  Dr. Cope led me through my transition into a new career as an English as a Second Language teacher.  In our first meeting, I came to her seeking licensure, and left inspired to pursue a Master's degree.  Thank you, Dr. Cope -- you are the reason I am watsonstanding here today.  Thank you for pushing me to be more than just a certified teacher.  You have encouraged me to be an expert in my field and an advocate for my students.  You steered me clear of mediocrity and pushed me to be the best I could be.  Thank you.

This experience has also enabled me to grow personally as I have come to terms with my own relationship with English.  As a native of Appalachia, I have always been torn between the dialect of my people and the Standard English that has granted me access into the academic realm.  As a young student, I was influenced to look down on my dialect.  This created a war within as I allowed my academic goals to dampen the flame of my cultural identity.  It was not until my graduate studies that I could find resolution to this clash of Englishes.  Dr. Aceto -- nadiaThank you.  Your courses have changed the way I feel about my Appalachian roots.  Thanks for empowering me to embrace my dialect.  You opened my eyes to a descriptive approach of viewing language, and therein I found a way to celebrate the words of my people.  For so long I have been embarrassed of the way my community talks.  Through this experience, I found beauty in words that I had been told to "clean up" as a child.   Your courses inspired me to put my heart on paper, and I used it as a map to find my way back home.  Thank you.

I encourage everyone today to consider your own relationship with English.  We cannot deny the necessity of Standard English in our lives.  In your quest for achievement, did you forget the words of your home?  Standard English is just that -- a standard.  It is not the English we use when we experience the most genuine moments of our lives.  I do not laugh or cry or dream in Standard English.  I challenge you to reconnect to your roots.  Be something besides the standard.  Be your grandmother.  Be your neighbor.  Be you.

SharerRandy Marfield:  You know, I was sitting on my living room some days ago thinking about some profound and philosophical thoughts to express at this moment that would impress my friends and colleagues.  I thought "WOW!" this is hard because, those of you who are closest to me know that I don't exert my energies trying to impress anyone.  Plus, Will Banks might be present and to impress Will in five minutes of less is a difficult undertaking on its own.

I really started to ask myself questions about the significance of standing up here as one of two Outstanding Graduate Students this year, and delivering a speech.  What does this moment mean for me?  Some of my friends would be proud of my realization that this moment is not only about me.  It is about the people that got me here and the friends that stuck with me through this process.

This moment is about a mother, my mother, who raised five children on her own, working as a nurse.  She managed to put four of those five kids through college successfully.

This moment is about a girlfriend that supported me, in spite of the strain distance caused.

gradThis moment is about remembering special friends like Tabitha Slusher, Gary Redding, Mike Hamer, Ketura Parker, Lisa DeVries, and Brandi Dudley who kept me focused when the distance from home seemed too unbearable to overcome.

This moment is about remembering the diligence of an English Department and the dedication of Professors like Will Banks, Dr. Deena, Dr. Arnold, Dr. Shields, Wendy Sharer, Gay Wilentz, and recently Dr. Irizarry.  You were all invaluable parts of my development, providing both personal and academic advice when it was needed.

Because of all of you, the tumult of these two years was weathered with confidence.  My experience in the English Department is the loom in which my character was truly made and strengthened.  I survived not only the exterior difficulties but the greater and more subtle enemies from within.  Because of you, I have learned how to truly live in this world.

Thank you all.

[The Chair's comments will return in the September 2007 issue]
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