NEA president urges SC State grads to 'create your own dream'

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Reprinted from The Times and Democrat

Just as she was born Maxine ShaNell Jeffcoat, she knew she was born to be an attorney. Ever since she was a high school scholar, she'd believed her place was in the courtroom.

But that dream changed. From her teachers to her parents, she saw the sacrifices others made to give her an education. She became convinced her place wasn't in the courtroom, but in the classroom.

And on Friday, the Eastover native graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education.

"Her plans are to go as high as she can," her mother, Hazel Jeffcoat, said. "She wants to be superintendent."

Jeffcoat was one of more than 400 South Carolina State University graduates who were conferred with their respective degrees during the institution's annual Spring Commencement Ceremony.

The atmosphere leading up to the 7 p.m. ceremony remained festive, but became downright enthusiastic as the graduates-to-be slowly filed into Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

As family and friends spotted their own graduate, they shouted and whistled their enthusiasm. A "Danielle" and a "Tiffany" certainly had strong vocal support. Though more quiet, Tamara's group held a sign bearing their graduate's name.

When the ceremony began, however, it was Jeffcoat and her fellow graduates to whom Reg Weaver aimed his commencement address.

President of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association and long-time advocate of the public school system, Weaver stressed upon the graduating class to remember the sacrifices of others, just as the Jeffcoat family have.

"Don't forget who got you to where you are now," Weaver said. "They take pride and joy in your accomplishments. These are the people who you need to remember, and to love and to cherish."

Named one of Ebony magazine's 100 Most Influential Black Americans, the charismatic speaker reminded the graduates of the definition of "commencement," which means to "go forth." Citing comedian Bill Cosby's translation, that word doesn't mean to "go forth back home."

With their degrees in hand, the graduates have been given a unique opportunity, Weaver said. But with that comes a responsibility to take advantage of that opportunity provided by parents and grandparents.

"They deserve for you to reach your highest potential," Weaver said.

In the past four years, the graduates have had access to "3,000 years of recorded experience" in their classrooms.

"And now it's time you use it," Weaver said.

Some will become doctors, engineers, caregivers, artists or military. Use that knowledge gained, in whatever field chosen, to benefit others, Weaver said.

"And I am certainly proud of you for who you are going to help," Weaver said. "The 2007 class of South Carolina State University has so much to offer."

A member of that 2007 class, Jeffcoat comes from a long line of college graduates. Perhaps that fact helped her decide to become a teacher. Or, perhaps it was the influence of her grandmother, who encouraged her to consider helping others.

"I feel very happy," Jeffcoat's grandmother, Elizabeth Deveaux, said. "She's a good girl, a very good girl."

Hazel Jeffcoat says her daughter simply wanted to extend a hand to others as several were extended to her.

"She had many great teachers, so she's giving back," Jeffcoat said. "I'm so proud of her."

To Jeffcoat and her fellow graduates, Weaver urged them to remember the leaders before, such as Sojourner Truth, and make the world a better place.

"I urge you not only to create your own dream, but make sure that door is open for those who come behind you," Weaver said.

"Graduates, God bless you."

T&D Staff Writer Richard Walker can be reached by e-mail at rwalker@timesanddemocrat.com or by telephone at 803-533-5516.