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WGU Graduate Speaker, Joel Ellington, Winter 2007
WGU Graduate Speaker, Joel Ellington, Winter 2007
Western Governors University
<p>Joel Ellington earned his Master of Education, Management and Innovation degree. On February 10, 2007 Ellington was a graduate speaker at the Winter 2007 WGU Commencement. This WGU Commencement took place at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>I appreciate the comments from Dr. Stephens on lifelong learning. And again, I echo her sentiments that many of us here are very familiar with, intimately familiar with, the struggles and the passion that are involved in lifelong learning. And in the spirit of that I would like to share with you a little glimpse into the anatomy of a degree, a postgraduate degree at Western Governors University.</p> <p>It actually starts in the spring of 1910 when a young man was born to a large family in the rural hills of the Ozarks of Northeastern Oklahoma. As I mentioned, he had a large family and as many of the people in the area, they were fairly poor. There was no running water, no electricity, and he wore nightshirts that went to his knees until he started kindergarten.</p> <p>In kindergarten he got his first pair of overalls which were hand-me-downs from his brothers. And he continued in those overalls until third grade. In third grade, when he had a pretty functional knowledge of the basics of arithmetic, reading and writing he did what most youth did at that time and he quit school and went home to work in the fields. It was at this time that he was given his own pair of shoes which he wore in the fields. They were, again, a pair of hand-me-down boots that he got from one of his older brothers that he wore as he worked in the fields with his family to ensure their health and vitality through the winter.</p> <p>A few years later, in very rural Kansas a young lady was born, again to a large family. They were a little more city folk, if you will, and this young lady attended school until seventh grade when the passing of her father, who had a great passion for education, changed the dynamic of their family and she, like the man from Oklahoma, was forced to enter into the workplace and help support the family.</p> <p>They later met and married. And though neither of them was ever able to return to their formal education they raised ten children – nine boys and a girl – on the education that they had received. They both had a good focus on education but again, with the distractions and the demands of family, were never able to return themselves.</p> <p>Now, fast forward a little bit to some of my experience. I was born the sixth of a family of ten. The two oldest brothers were married preceding my memory. They both graduated high school and went on to about one year of college. The others that were ahead of me were lively, difficult characters, I imagine, in my parents’ eyes. And by the time I reached high school both had left to pursue their own paths, which did not include furthering their education. And by the time I had moved on through my high school years my younger siblings had also dropped out, with the exception of the one girl that was in our family.</p> <p>I would add a couple of interesting little vignettes here in that I remember when I started ninth grade, high school, I was mortified to find they didn’t call it ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade but there were names that went with those and I had never heard those before in my life. And I spent the first few days glancing at a little cue card that I scribbled on saying, “I’m a freshman. Then it’s sophomore. Then it’s junior. Then it’s senior. Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.” And so my experience with education was all new to me and my parents and my siblings weren’t much help.</p> <p>As I entered into my senior year there was a requirement by the state for me to sit down with a counselor and to talk about what would happen next. And this counselor asked me very directly, and I remember like it was a week ago, “Do you plan to go to college?” The thought had never entered my mind. I didn’t consider it an option. And after a moment of getting my feet back under me I asked her, “Is that a possibility?” and she said, “Well, yes, but your grades kind of need to come up a little bit.”</p> <p>So focused on that, I brought my grades up. I applied and was accepted to go to college. I ran off to college remembering they start over again with freshman, sophomore, junior and senior and went to a junior college in Idaho and with a brief break there finished two Associate’s degrees, something that no one in my extended family had ever done before. I met a lovely young lady there who supported me as I went along and we have four children of our own. Because of the demands and the distractions of that I finished my career there with my second Associate’s degree and went into the workforce.</p> <p>Time went by. One of the things I wanted to do more than anything else was to teach. And I did a lot of things that involved training and other informal classroom environments but it didn’t involve teaching children. So in the winter of 2000 I returned to college in Northwestern Missouri. Ironically, not far but basically in between the hometowns of the young lady from Kansas and the man from Oklahoma and with the support of my wife and our four children, continued on and received in 2003 a Bachelor’s degree that allowed me enter into the classroom as a formal teacher.</p> <p>I was thrilled. It is something, again, that had never been done in my family before. And as I left there, a very good professor there who I had been fairly close to approached me and said, “Of course you’re going to go on and work in the graduate program” and that it was ever present and very intimidating to me. It loomed large beyond my means.</p> <p>As I investigated universities that would allow me to do that while I was supporting now four teenagers and my wife, I stumbled onto, through some investigation on the Internet and recommendations by a friend, Western Governors University. And I started my sojourn in Western Governors University. And I could stand here for 30 minutes and barely touch on what happened. And I won’t do that to you. What I will say is I felt I worked pretty hard and without the help of a mentor it never would have happened. My mentor stayed with me and called me and assured me that I could do it.</p> <p>And I would like to tell you about an experience that I had last summer that kind of synopsizes how that went. Dr. Jennifer [Inaudible] was my mentor. I had just rejoined the military fulltime and was trying to get my youthful body back so that I could pass the rigors of their physical training demands. Running in the hills of western Utah, there are a couple of hills that I just could master. And at the same time I was really struggling with one particular stage of my educational progress.</p> <p>At the time that I was about to throw in the towel Dr. [Inaudible] called me and she said, “Joel, I know you. You can do this.” And the critical part of this is that I believed her. And as I ran around and was running up one of those hills there was a goal – there’s a speed limit sign, which always made me laugh. There was no way I was going to get 30 miles an hour out of that hill. But there was a speed limit sign that I really wanted to attain. And as I reached that I looked ahead and probably 80 yards further up the road – didn’t seem like much when I was walking, but running – there was a little hill and echoing in my mind were the words of my mentor, Dr. [Inaudible] saying, “Joel, you can do it.” And so I leaned forward, looked at the ground and plodded on and jogged until I made that summit. I stopped and looked and from that summit that is basically at the point of the mountain, we call it in Utah, I could see North Salt Lake and Springville, a distance of about 50 or 60 miles with the Rocky Mountains in the background. It was absolutely beautiful.</p> <p>About three weeks later I finished the capstone, wrapped up my degree and was able to – she called me. I was actually on a field exercise. She called me on the phone and she said, “Joel, you’ve done it.” And I will always consider that little extra mile that was required, and it really wasn’t much, but it was the hardest part. That’s my smoke a bit. And every time I get in a little bit of trouble half the military guys think I’m going out for a little smoke break, which is surprising, but that’s my smoke a bit. That’s where I give just a little bit extra. And that’s what we all have within us. And that’s what Dr. Stephens was talking about this morning, that desire and that passion to reach that extra goal. I would add to that now that I run the length that goes around behind that and I pass that point on my way back down the hill. And I attribute that a lot to Dr. [Inaudible].</p> <p>I encourage you to reach out just a little bit more. When you’re not sure that you can do it, find those people. Find those Dr. [Inaudible] in your life who can give you that little bit of extra go. And that is what Western Governors has done for me. So today I stand before you with a degree that no one in my extended family has ever been able to achieve, and I don’t attribute that to me. I dedicate it or I attribute it to the fine support that I’ve had, and especially I dedicate it to my father in whose memory in the last graduations that I’ve attained I’ve worn my black dress overalls under my frock and who is that father of ten who raised those nine boys and that girl on a third grade education. Thank you.</p> <p>[Applause]</p>
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