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ECU graduates urged to take risks
(May 11, 2002) — Ron Clark, a Disney Teacher of the Year and an East Carolina University alumnus, urged graduates Saturday (May 11) to take risks in their personal and professional lives.
Clark, who graduated from the university in 1994, told the degree candidates and more than 10,000 family members and friends in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, that "when you take risks, you will be rewarded for it."
ECU awarded more than 2,400 degrees, including about 700 graduate degrees and 72 medical degrees, at the university’s 93rd spring commencement.
Clark taught five years in Aurora after graduating from ECU then moved to Public School 83 in Harlem. His fifth-grade class had 37 students, none performing at grade level for reading, writing or math. By the end of the school year, his class scored higher on grade 5 citywide tests in math and reading than classes labeled as "gifted."
For his work in Harlem, he was cited as the Disney Teacher of the Year in 2000. Plans are underway to tell his story in a TV movie next year.
"When you believe in yourself and are willing to take risks, you can make anything happen," Clark said.
He recalled that when he was an ECU student, he and a group of friends, for a nationally televised football game with Syracuse, painted their bodies purple and spelled out the word "Pirates" with letters on their chests. Clark said he had the letter "I" because his chest was so small. The group had planned to dash across the field during the game.
Clark brought the new graduates to their feet with cheers and applause by stepping from behind the lectern and pulling open his academic regalia to reveal the letter "I" on his purple chest.
He said that he was arrested when he ran on the field in the third quarter of the Syracuse game, but that he will always have great memories of the event.
He also described how he took a risk by sending a dozen students from his school in New York to apply to the most prestigious junior high school in the city, although no students from his school had been accepted previously by the junior high. Eventually, all 12 were admitted, he said.
He told the graduates to face life with strength and determination and to "live life to the fullest."
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