A Love Letter: Lessons From My JCSU Students

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At the end of the 2017-18 academic year, I received the University’s highest honor awarded to a faculty member, the Cato Par Excellence Teaching Award. Part of the responsibility of winning the Cato Award is that the faculty member is invited to address the students during one of the fancy events like Founders’ Day or the Baccalaureate service prior to graduation. This year, due to alterations in the schedule during the new president’s inaugural week celebrations, I wasn’t able to address the student body. I am absolutely fine with that and don’t feel slighted at the least. I decided that I would still write and share the speech that I was going to deliver as a dedication to all of the students that have crossed my path at JCSU in the classroom, my office, Kokomo’s, and on the block.

DEAR STUDENTS:

Normally I would stand before you and tell you selected parts of my life’s journey, hoping to inspire you or even share with you a few life lessons that have helped me along the way, hoping you’d also find some value in them. But my instincts were telling me that this wasn’t the conversation I wanted to have with you. I wanted to keep it all the way real with you.

I found myself reflecting on how lucky I have been to teach the most genuine and realest people, particularly at a Historically Black University for the past, almost 10 years and the various relationships I have built with many of you over these years. These relationships include close mentoring bonds over academic and professional decisions and personal bonds with many of you that have become family. A select few have had the experience of meeting my entire family in the United States and across the ocean in Cabo Verde, thanks to the Cato Award and the University’s study abroad program.

As a student-centered educator, I pride myself in a teaching philosophy that treats the interactions with you, my students, as learning experiences for both you and me. I don’t claim to know everything just because I have a Ph.D. As an African, I have always known the difference between knowledge (what I’ve learned through academic degrees) and wisdom (what my parents and grandmother have learned through life experiences). As a matter of fact, you have taught me so much about myself, my world and most importantly your world, helping me better understand and serve you. It’s because of the lessons you have taught me that have led me to win teaching awards and become a better educator, a better human, a better wife, a better mom, and a more confident and fabulous ME! Because of you, I love Beyonce, Cardi B and Megan The Stallion, equally and with little to no judgment (hey, I am not perfect! LOL). You have made my “Feminism” so much more flexible over the years. For this, I thank you.

THE LESSONS

These are some of the lessons you have unknowingly passed on to me and in no specific order. I hope you will share with others who cross your life’s path:

  1. Be open. Don’t be fake. When I show up in my true form, you also show up in your true form and together, we succeed.
  2. Kindness and a smile goes a long way.
  3. Have compassion.
  4. Be Patient. We are all “work in progress”.
  5. Listen more.
  6. Build trust.
  7. Show my human side.
  8. Don’t try to be perfect. I can be wrong and make mistakes. It’s okay.
  9. Be tough.
  10. Be fair.
  11. Be flexible.
  12. Be humble.
  13. We have more in common than you think.
  14. I am not better than anyone. No one is better than me.

This love letter is my expression of gratitude for the lessons you have taught me, the community we have built together, and the confidence to be authentically and unapologetically myself. I often hear folks say, “young people are the leaders of tomorrow”. I say, “y’all are the leaders of the now.” I truly believe that. In my 9 years at this institution you have taught me valuable lessons of strength, confidence, humanity and community. For this, I thank you.

Thank you for empowering me with self-confidence. When you show up so confidently, it sparks my confidence as well. The confidence to openly talk about being an undocumented immigrant. The confidence to say “I don’t have it all together and I cry sometimes.” The confidence to say, “I don’t know.” The confidence to bring my babies to campus because I was a first-time mom and so scared to put my babies in daycare and the confidence to do it even when “university policies” said NO! The confidence to say, “I’d rather ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Thank you for being my children’s big sisters, brothers, cousins, mentors, second set of parents, and all the positive, strong and empowering images of “Blackness” and “Africanness” this entails. Because of you they know what community looks like. Because of you they know Black excellence is the norm. And because of you, I know who I am…unapologetically. For this, obrigadu!

With admiration,

“Dr. T” (imma need y’all to learn to say my entire name before the end of 2019, for real though)

 

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