Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Yearly Theme in Review: Fall 2012

The Year of Transforming Education exemplified the yearly theme at Allegheny. Never have we seen such an active annual theme that has encouraged and brought in so many college students and faculty, as well as community members. Being a student ambassador this semester, I learned about the educational system along with two life lessons from two of the speakers.

1. Jonathan Kozol: Passion is momentous.

Jonathan Kozol, one of the most important education advocates of our time was coming to Allegheny. As we planned for his arrival, we read chapters from his book Fire in the Ashes, reviewed his travel itinerary, and distributed publicity materials. We wanted everything to be perfect. The travel, the food, the students. Mostly we wanted his visit to be memorable for everyone. After all, we over-prepared for his speech to be the best keynote address this school has seen since Ida Tarbell walked Brooks walk.

And he was. His speech was incredible. I cried at least three times and heard people around me share in the sentiment. Kozol spoke from his heart, stirring ethos from each person in the audience. He was not afraid of being dramatic. His message was clear because of his passion.

After his visit, I realized that it is okay to show how passionate you are about something. Our society frowns upon sentiments, but it’s time to accept them. Having an emotional connection to something or someone is so important in the long run. Passion is momentous and we should emphasize passion when the time comes.

2. Andre Perry: How, not what.

As an alumnus of the college, Andre Perry was an enthusiastic visitor. He wanted to meet as many people on campus as possible. Attending lunches and talking with students groups, Perry left his mark as a successful graduate and important scholar in education. He brought up issues of diversity and questioned the role of faculty and administration. 

The biggest issue he emphasized was the idea of “how” instead of “what.” For example, he said that raising test scores for every student will not increase quality of education for every student. Instead, we should think about how the quality of education can be equitable for each student. There’s no reason to lose anyone along the way because a school wants to catch up with test scores.

Perry’s stress around thinking about the how instead of the what was most memorable in his visit. Someone as successful and intelligent as him, to come from Allegheny, to come from an adverse background, was inspiring. He knew how to talk and how to challenge people. I realized that thinking about process is always more significant than the end result. The end does not justify the means.

I learned more about myself from considering the educational system than I have in any other academic setting. The yearly theme encourages a review of the educational systems in place, but also our process as college students within a higher education institution. If we cannot learn from our own experiences, then how will we change others? 

Next semester's events will provide even more diverse experiences for students. Already in one semester, the yearly theme has surpassed expectations for the college and introduced a higher caliber for programming. It's a step past "starting a conversation." It's pushing advocacy and change in society.

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