Commencement Address

Hello Friends! 

It’s been quite a while since I’ve last posted but in my defense, I’ve been busy. Yesterday, I had the honor of being the student speaker at my hooding ceremony. Here is a transcript of my speech! I hope you all enjoy! Congrats to all of the #SAGrad’s out there!

To the esteemed faculty, friends, family, and especially the Student Personnel26891005681_64f25a602d_z

Administration in Higher Education class of 2016, it is an honor to speak before you today, an honor that I do not take lightly. My goal for my short time before you this afternoon is that I inspire, uplift, and not cry.

Before I begin I would be remiss if I did not take the time to thank my mother and late father, Lisa and Gregory McKnight. I am thankful to have had parents that not only put me in cute dresses with matching hats but also bought me doctor kits and books that described the terrible power of Black women that cannot be contained. It was a blessing to have parents that loved me before they knew me but it is God’s grace that I have had parents that believed I could do anything I put my mind to. Thank you for never making me question, not for one second, that I am enough. This is me not crying.

Class of 2016, welcome to the day we thought would never come. Friends, I don’t have decades of hard-won wisdom to pull from to offer you advice but I do have three hopes for you all as we end our time here together.

SANKOFA

 Sankofa is a word, but also a symbol, that comes to us from the Asante people of Ghana. It is often times represented by a bird that is facing forward but looking backward. Sankofa explains to us that it is important to move forward, but to also remember where we have come from and who has helped us along the way. So I hope that you remember the folks that have been in your corner, that listened to you complain about Grad School, even though they still aren’t sure what your degree means. I hope that you remember the faculty that advised, challenged, and supported us through our two years together. That listened to our every complaint with a learned patience. But most importantly I hope that you remember the support network that we have created with one another.

We have been through a lot together. This cohort has been a team of cheerleaders in times of triumph and safe havens in times of defeat. Through APA tests, internships, papers, marriages and the births of adorable babies, we have seen it all. I hope that we not lose that spirit of camaraderie. It is expected that with the busyness of life that is soon to come our GroupMe won’t be as poppin’ as it has been in the past but I hope we are still able to say, “My cohort has my back.” 

NEVER BE SATISFIED

I hope that you never settle for the status-quo and recognize that you have no bounds in what you can do. Being never satisfied doesn’t mean that you can’t feel accomplished, it means that you understand you always have room to grow and be better. Our students are always changing and getting smarter everyday so we should do the same! Be curious, try out a new idea, whether you rise or fall, do something! The limit does not exist for you!

I hope that when you embark on a journey to your new job or bring your M.Ed. with you to your current position you are able to take the knowledge you have gained with our amazing faculty and continue to push and challenge yourself to do more for our students, who deserve us at our very best.

BE AN ADVOCATE

This last point is less of a hope but more of an expectation of you all as good and decent people in this world. Since we have been in graduate school, issues of police brutality against Black bodies, transphobic laws, sexual assault on college campuses, and the rights of undocumented students, have been at the forefront of national conversation. We have also talked about all of these issues in class. Well now is the time for us to stop talking and do something.

As people who work in higher education, at institutions that are supposed to be cultivating the future leaders of our country it is our responsibility to help them not only retain, persist, and succeed in college but also give them the tools to be civically engaged and responsible leaders.

I hope that you have the courage to advocate for the rights of students in your respective functional areas. As Student Affairs professionals we should be a part of a constant examination of what students are being left out or pushed out and why. I know that we have all seen how easy it is in our field to get into a comfort zone. But I hope for you to be the type of millennials that the rest of the world thinks you are and challenge the process. Racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, and so many other forms of oppression have the opportunity to knock our students down at every turn. I hope that you push to center the needs of the most marginalized so that they may feel uplifted. You know the world, you know who you are, now it’s time for you to show it.

Friends, My life has been shaped and inspired by the work of Black women that cannot be contained so it is fitting that I close with a quote from the powerful Dr. Maya Angelou,

“You will be surprised that these years of sleepless nights and months of uneasy days will be rolled into an altering event called “the good old days.” And you will not be able to visit them even with an invitation. Since that is so you must face your presence. You are prepared, Go out and transform the world.”

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to celebrate this thing called commencement.

Thank you and Congratulations.

Discipline.

“The first and best victory is to conquer self.”
— Plato

2015, has been a great year for me. I have been able to get more involved in the field of Higher Education in ways I never thought I could. I have made connections with students. I worked very hard in class and my grades have shown that work. I have taken my graduate school experience and made it my own by gearing my projects and research to what I care about, professional and personally. Even with all of that, there is still room to improve.

In high school, even into undergrad, I was chained by unwritten rules that I felt I needed to follow to be good enough. Make this grade. Play this sport. Go to college. Major in this. Have these kind of friends. I was never having to be disciplined for myself. A lot of things I was doing were to please or satisfy the gaze of others.

This past year I had epiphany that I can still be amazing and not follow anyone else’s prepackaged formula. I read Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, and Roxanne Gay and figured out that as a Black woman I am wonderful, terrible, beautiful, stubborn, wrong, and right in all the ways that I need to be and that is ok.

While still holding on to my new found sense of freedom I need to find self-discipline. I’ve always appreciated structure and rules so it is no wonder that while I have been doing well, I have not thrived as I would have liked to in 2015. Imagine what I could have done if I was trying to make myself as proud as I was trying to make others?

So my New Year, New Me, post is not about the job search, which will happen, or about finding myself. In 2016, I want to find the self-discipline to be ok saying no. I want to eat healthier and take care of myself. I want to be in better control of my finances. I need to be more mindful and present in my interactions with others. To me all of those things fall under discipline.

So a toast to the blood, sweat, and tears of 2015, and cheers to all that 2016, will bring.

See you next year,

Amanda

When the Road Splits and You Are Silent

Today, I went for my first walk in the woods at Guilford College. I’ve been working here for over a year but I have never, by myself, taken the time to go for a stroll through our, sometimes infamous, woods. They are home to lots of animals, faculty and staff homes, Quaker history, Underground Railroad stories, and of course, student mischief. So today, I decided that in this mist and gloom I should finally explore.

The woods at Guilford are peaceful. So green and lush. There are babbling brooks that follow along the paths and the trees that reach so very high, sway in the wind with a practiced grace, you can tell the woods are as old as they are beautiful.

As soon as I made it to the path I stumbled across this…

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A split in the woods. I know, I know, how very cliché of me to be inspired to write because I see two roads diverged in the woods.

But this got me thinking about where I am, not just in my student affairs journey, but my life. In the next few months I will be making some very big life decisions and will have to make choices that are going to put me along certain paths. It is scary and exciting and BIG. I do not claim to be an expert in Quakerism but what I have picked up here at Guilford is an appreciation for silence and being still. Silence is a big part of how we conduct business at the College level and that comes from the large part it has in Quaker meetings for worship. It just so happened that this week I have encountered challenges of faith whether they be my own or what others have shared with me. I have been thinking a lot about the way Quakerism affects the ecology of the campus and the effect it has on me.

As I approach my literal and figurative roads that diverge I am going to remember this place in the woods and take time to be still and embrace the silence. The answers will come to me and whether my decisions are right or not I can stand firm in knowing I made them calmly and to the best of my ability.

Until next time,

Amanda

A Dialogue with ACPA President, Dr. Gavin Henning

Earlier this semester I was contacted by ACPA about a chance to interview, Dr. Gavin Henning, the current ACPA President, for16GOm75o my blog. I considered deleting the email and reporting it as spam before I realized that it wasn’t a joke.

Flash forward a few weeks later and I was on Google Hangout on a Monday morning, after spending the weekend trying to make my residence hall wall background look less like a basement and more like an office, having a thought-provoking and relevant conversation about this work called Student Affairs. I hope you all enjoy our, at times random due to my questions but, relevant conversation on the job search, changes in the field, activism, and why our work is important. 

On Why You Do The Work

One of my favorite questions in interviews is asking someone why they do what they do. We can read a job description about what they do and most people can spout off their job responsibilities but getting to understand why someone does something is where you start to understand who they are and what they value.

Gavin is currently a faculty member and Director of the Doctorate of Education and Master’s of Education in Higher Education Administration at New England College. He said he not only enjoys that role but sees it as a way to give back.

“Well I enjoy it, that’s probably one of the biggest things, you want to do something that you love and I feel like I’m making a contribution. I feel like I’m able to give back from what I’ve learned and what I’ve learned from other folks and help educate the folks that will be educating students moving forward. I hope that some of the skills and knowledge that I’ve acquired over the last 20, 25 years in Higher Ed I’ll be able to help new professionals and grad students to be able to do that same kind of work.”

On The Job Search and His First Job

Admittedly, I was very grateful to have the chance to interview Gavin and share with you all the knowledge he imparted but I was really looking to ask the questions that I wanted to know the answer to as well! The “job search” is this big ominous thing that everyone has different advice for though no job search looks the same. In that same regard the transition from graduate student to full-time professional is different for everyone. So let’s jump into that part of the conversation!

I asked, “What was your transition from grad school to your first professional role like?” Gavin responded, “It was really difficult. I did my undergrad at Michigan State University which was only about an hour and a half from where I lived in Michigan. I stayed at Michigan State to do my grad work so it was not a huge transition to go from undergrad to grad school work. I was close to family and I was comfortable and had some of the same connections with folks that I made in undergrad. It did feel like two more years at undergrad.”

“So when I got the position at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) it was a big transition. So that was when I finally felt like I was on my own. I was driving halfway across the country on my own and not really sure what was going to happen. It was definitely outside my comfort zone, so I was scared but also excited. I wasn’t sure what the next step was going to be. I was fortunate to have a supportive staff, the other Hall Directors on campus were great at helping me transition. The overall transition wasn’t as difficult as I thought but it was a big jump to go from somewhere where I was familiar. Even though Michigan State is huge, I felt comfortable there, I worked in Orientation, I was an RA so I knew the Student Affairs side of things, even in Grad School I worked in the Student Services office. I was a Grad Hall Director so I was pretty connected to all of that. It wasn’t as bad as I thought but it was new. I had a lot more autonomy than I had before, the Hall Directors at UNH did all of their own assessment and programming model and had to really trust in what I knew and go on instinct.”

How have you seen the role of Student Affairs change?

“The two biggest changes I think between now and then is one, technology. I used a computer for the first time in grad school. Because personal computers weren’t big in the 80s and late 80s. Actually, I didn’t use internet until my second year as a Hall Director and even then it was dial-up service, it was very slow. There wasn’t anything. So the technology that’s available today in terms of accessing information, connecting with students and the ability to use the technology to track students to help support them is dramatically different from what we ever had. So there are a lot of possibility there but we are also seeing some challenges with social media. Where social media is great to connect with but there is also this…I’ve started noticing students sitting in the same room with each other texting one another! So in that way the technology has kept us more closely connected but has also separated us. We have students that are lacking interpersonal skills, that has caused some big changes.”

“I also think the change in student demographics has been pretty remarkable. Not just in race and ethnicity but even what we have seen in the last few years about Trans identified students. And what are some of the implications for our old systems. Also veteran students. When I was at Dartmouth we had a push to bring in veteran students because our President at the time had been in the Marines but what we hadn’t thought about were what are the implications of bringing first year students who are in their late twenties onto a residential campus. So we hadn’t thought this through. So we had these 27-28 year-old students saying that they don’t want to have an 18 year-old roommate. Then some of them wanted to get through the program as quickly as possible but summer classes weren’t offered. Dartmouth was a truly residential college. So our systems weren’t set up for those type of students. Same thing goes for Trans identified students our current systems are very gendered so we need to figure out how to adapt to that.”

Activism

As I have mentioned on my blog before, I sometimes struggle with what my role in social change and activism can be now that I am a professional and not a student. My activism used to be going to marches, writing editorials in the newspaper, and any other way my voice can be heard. Now I am looking at how I can continue being an agent of change while doing what I can so that I can support my students. Gavin here lends his thought on the role of activism in student affairs. 

“Well I have a couple different perspectives, one is the perspective of activism in terms of change, changing society and I think all of us…I go back and forth! I think activism is important. If we look at any social movements and change in society, it’s been through activism. Things don’t change when people are quiet or happy with the status quo. But I’m also concerned about for some people, that form of activism and social change doesn’t really fit who they are. I think there are many ways to be active, I want to be cognizant of…in many ways I want to be inclusive of how people can be activists and make change. Some people want to go protest, some want to write letters to the editor of a paper. Some people blog about topics. Some talk about topics to people in person or bring them to class so I think there are multiple ways to be active. But I think our whole goal is to make society and the world better. So I think we all have to find what role fits us best. I want to make sure we aren’t judging folks that may not appear to be active and maybe they are in other ways.”

“So that’s the societal change piece. The other piece is our students and their activism. The reason I think about that is because one of my doctoral students did his dissertation on moral development of students that engage in protest. He calls it ‘non collaborative activism,’ particularly a lot of the students he talked with were involved in the Occupy movement. Particularly Occupy Boston and there was an Occupy Dartmouth movement. What he learned was that actually participating in those protests foster their moral development. And so, aside from the societal change impact there is also a personal development impact. I think both from our students but from us as individuals. That’s another important reason to be involved in it but some people participate in different ways so I would love to have the conversation begin to broaden to how are the many that we all can be active in making change.”

I had a great time with this interview and was so thankful the chance to interview Gavin. Though this seems like a lot I didn’t include everything that we covered! As you all know I like to write about what I feel and maybe some of the other topics we touched on will be more relevant later but until then I think this enough of a read for anyone. 

Until next time,

Amanda

Times That Kelly Kapoor Explained Your Life As An #SAGrad

The Office may not be on TV anymore but my love for Kelly Kapoor will never have a finale.

WHEN YOU GET BACK FROM YOUR SUMMER INTERNSHIP

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“DID YOU DO THE SUPPLEMENTAL READING?”

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WHEN SOMEONE ACCIDENTALLY SAYS DORM IN CLASS

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WHEN YOU ARE ASKED WHAT LEADERSHIP STYLE YOU UTILIZE MOST

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WHEN ACUHO-I AND NODA OFFERS ARE ON THE SAME DAY

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WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO GET PARTICIPATION POINTS

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FINDING OUT YOUR CONFERENCE SESSION PROPOSAL WAS CHOSEN

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WHEN GROUP PROJECTS GET REAL

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WHEN YOU FEEL CONFIDENT STANDING UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT

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WHEN YOU FINALLY SNAG THE JOB OF YOUR #SAGRAD DREAMS

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Good luck this semester y’all!

Amanda

Let us be Heroes

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” – Maya Angelou

This year Guilford College, where I work, has a superhero theme for our orientation. The students chose the quote above to go on the back of one of the shirts. This Maya Angelou quote really got me thinking about what it means to be a hero. As Student Affairs professionals it is easy for us to try to be superheroes. From working late nights and during days off a lot of us strive to always be available and even feel guilty when we are not. Swooping in to save the day when we see a student in need.

But even Superman has his Fortress of Solitude and Batimage1man has to spend time as Bruce Wayne.

As I begin my 2nd year of grad school I am already feeling spread thin. I’m sure that I am not alone. Between class, work, internship, research, job search, and some nebulous thing called a “social life,” it is very easy to forget about taking those moments to take care of yourself.

So let’s challenge the conventional thinking of the word superhero. Let us be superheroes by setting the example of taking a break from work before we are desperate for one. Let us be superheroes by encouraging others to take care of themselves when we see they may not be at their best. Let us be superheroes by striving to make every place you inhabit a great place for others.

Good luck this semester and know that you are a superhero even if you go home when you are supposed to, wait to answer that email in the morning, or tell someone no.

Until next time,

Amanda

Existence is Resistance

Black Lives Matter.001As I get ready for the beginning of my last year in graduate school I can barely focus on my soon to come studies because my brothers and sisters are being killed all around me. Mothers, fathers, aunts, cousins, students, and friends are all gone because someone decided that they were too dangerous, too inhuman, and not worth enough of anything to live.

How can I sit and worry about whether or not my google calendar is synced with all of my meetings when I feel like I should be out on the streets protesting the injustice that is all around me? What does it matter if I can’t drive my car, sleep in my bed, or go to the store, without being confident that I will make it to the next day? At times I feel guilty that I have not dropped everything and joined the movement. I am able-bodied and of sound mind, that is something that I could do.

It is then that I remembered a word from the old folks in my family that many young Black children hear when they get too big for their britches. My grandmother used to tell me to “tend to my business,” when I got too involved in grown up conversations. Now I take that word from her and apply it to my grown up life.

I am figuring out that my lane of resistance and protest is to continue my education. I have a role that I must play and I remember that I would not have made it through the killings of Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray, Rekia Boyd, and Jonathan Ferrel, to name a few, without the shoulders of student affairs professionals to cry upon.  Even more the work of student affairs professionals should be as a support to our students that are beginning to put themselves on the front lines of activism. It is the collective leadership of young women, young queer folks, and young folks of color in all of their intersectional identities that is leading the Black Lives Matter Movement, not old religious leaders.

Graduate Assistants that get it are needed. Coordinators that get it are needed. Assistant Directors that get it are needed. College Presidents and Chancellors that get it are needed.

For me, these killings don’t feel like they are happening to other people. I am them and they are me. When I see my colleagues in this field that do not understand how personal this is I want to scream! If you, with your classes on feminism, social justice workshops, CSA competencies, and diversity programming quotas don’t get it, who else in the university will? I worry for your students.

If I feel like my very existence in the university is resistance what do you think your students feel?

Until next time,

Amanda