Skip to content

A Graduation Speech You Won’t Hear…

A Graduation Speech You Won’t Hear…

EACE Blog contribution by Alfreda James, Assistant Director, Graduate Student and Post Doc Career Services at Stony Brook University 

speech-imageGoogle-search “student preparation for jobs” and in .52 seconds receive nearly a billion hits on the subject. Politicians scream about national competitiveness and test scores in Singapore while parents in the United States resist the Common Core. Earlier this year, President Obama convened a meeting of university presidents to discuss low income students’ access to higher education.

Meanwhile employers note deficits in communication skills, work ethic, and lack of preparedness for the job market. But did anyone pay attention to:

  • Camden County High School in St. Mary’s Georgia where all students participate in technical education in one of five areas: health/environmental science, engineering, business, fine arts, and public/human service?

About 85% of Camden’s students graduate, the school boasts a state-champion football team, and has one of the best AP score records in the state. Camden does not separate its students into college-bound and/or vocation tracks. Every student, regardless of educational focus, receives technical training.

Achievement has a different face now. There are creative students coming out of Staten Island Tech as well as the Bronx High School of Science. But we seem hung up on an educational past where we could reliably know where we might find all the best students with the best potential for our institutions and employers. This focus on the best cuts both ways. Employers want the finest employees; universities want the top cut. And you, the students, want the best employers.

However the A-1 target keeps changing its location. Will you work for a tech start-up to learn from the ground-up? Will you move to Wisconsin for an opportunity?

Employers, will you invest in the working-class students in my campus who want to prove themselves?

So here is my commencement speech to graduates and families: We ought to pay attention to the populations in our schools and communities making improvement. So, please, put down your lists defining the best and have a face-to-face conversation with an individual who has a job or is transitioning to a new career or has a new business. Go to your town’s chamber of commerce and learn about the challenges facing local businesses. Better yet, devote a few hours of a week to your community’s food pantry. You may see yourself or your family reflected in the population but you’ll also observe that you have had an advantage through your education. Focus less on what you think success should look like and concentrate more on more on effort, vision, and goals directly related to your individual action.

Turn off your electronic devices, walk outside, and speak to your neighbor. You might find an English major taking a job unrelated to editing with Dow Jones & Company or psychology graduate student on her way to Kuwait for a paid internship in counseling. Between the hoopla and misinformation are varieties of success defying standardization.

Alfreda S. James, PhD

Alfreda S. James, PhD

Alfreda S. James, PhD specializes in counseling graduate students about career options. She advises graduate students as well as undergraduates pursuing careers in public policy, government, and science. Dr. James is currently a member of the IDP Task Force and the WISE Admissions Committee. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) provides four year scholarships to undergraduates pursing degrees in STEM disciplines. She served two terms as an evaluator for the Turner Graduate Fellowship Program. The Turner Fellowship provides financial support to underrepresented graduate students. Dr. James is also a member of the university’s HealthierU strategic planning committee, responsible for promoting wellness and health activities to over 14,000 employees.


%d bloggers like this: