A flight mechanic, a 50 yr old, a nurse, and Culton Speer walk across a stage….
Sounds like the start of a pretty good joke. Actually, it was my Friday night for August 21, 2015. The first and probably only one I will ever spend in Abilene. The occasion was the summer 2015 graduation for Texas State Technical College. And before those 4 individuals walked the stage, they blessed the gathered audience of family and friends with a few words of wisdom.
Before I get to those words they shared, let me back up just a bit. I taught Culton at Melissa High 3 years ago. While he wasn’t the strongest student (to which he will attest), he always had a strong presence in my classroom and the school. While funny, charming, and always country, he also possessed a somewhat strong disdain for excelling academically throughout his high school career. He definitely had that love-hate thing going on with me and his English teacher, the amazing Mrs. Stacy Hricko, during his senior year. Upon his graduation from MHS, I think all parties involved with him to this point (including himself) would have agreed that it would be some time before Culton stepped inside another classroom again. But this is where he proved us all wrong. Culton made the choice to attend TSTC, pursuing an Associates Degree in Environmental Science Technology, with aspirations of becoming a safety officer.
Throughout the past 3 years, I’ve witnessed his maturation and growth through the posting of grades and school activities to social media, along with receiving the occasional direct message to remind me that math is still the devil. While all these things brought smiles to my face, nothing brought more joy than his post to start his graduation week. This post announced his graduation, while also providing thanks to teachers and principals of his past, along with noting the insanity of him being the class speaker. Even I had to read that part twice. It was at that moment that I knew I would be traveling to see him speak, wherever Breckenridge or TSTC was. After some research, I learned that all 4 West Texas campuses of TSTC would hold a joint graduation ceremony at the Abilene Civic Center. After a rough week of news linked to my educational sphere of influence, I knew this celebration would be a positive way to end the week, as well as give me a 4 hour drive to nowhere to ponder life.
Shortly after I arrived to the auditorium, I caught his eye as he walked towards the stage with the other dignitaries of the evening. He looked as if he’d seen a ghost. For the first time I can remember, he was speechless. (I’m sure he was a bit nervous too.) I then sat down in the audience, proudly sharing with the people next to me that my student was onstage and going to speak at the event.
Back to the
joke…ahem…I mean 4 people on stage. First to speak was the flight mechanic from the Abilene campus. A young lady, weighing in at 110 pounds soaking wet, whom is probably unable to legally drink alcohol, may not be your typical flight mechanic. Her admissions counselor, whom introduced her, stated this as well. Her words were full of excitement and wonder, proud of the knowledge she’d gained while appreciating where the future may take her. For me, her most poignant point was that, in life, many opportunities will present themselves to you. Some will lead you down a positive path, while others may take you down a dark road that is not to your benefit. It is our choice to choose which ones to take and which ones to allow to pass.
Next up was Culton, chosen to speak on behalf of his classmates from the Breckenridge campus. Introduced by the chair of his program, it was great to hear another educator praise Culton by affirming his desire to protect others, specifically stating that this trait will serve him well in his future professional role as a safety officer. Culton spoke honestly about his journey; from a strong young athlete to an injured high school athlete who had lost all ambition to the successful student he is now. At some point early on he messed up, in his speech. Allow me to quote a line from his speech. (is that speechception?) “Judge a person on the way they handle adversity from the mistake, not the mistake itself.” Despite his slight error, he did not get derailed, as he continued on by giving thanks to the many family members that have pushed him to this point. Culton concluded by confidently reminding all the graduates to always walk proudly and to remember that TSTC has prepared them for whatever obstacles and adversity they may face in the future.
The penultimate speaker had earned his degree from Brownwood, specializing in Computer Networking and Systems Administration. From early on, his name had stood out because he had the same Mexican surname as my grandmother. He spoke about his non-traditional path to this degree, sharing with the audience that him and the school were celebrating the same birthday this year. This meant that despite his young appearance, he was turning 50 as well. It was great to see someone older than me pushing through to “learn new tricks” despite society’s belief that community college is a place for the younger generation. He spoke eloquently about having goals and the hope that they can give you. It was easy to tell that his words meant a lot as many in the crowd could probably identify with being past their prime, including yours truly.
Finally, the Sweetwater campus speaker was a lady who had earned her credentials to be a vocational nurse. A vibrant and passionate individual, she shared her life story as best she could. Hampered by poor choices made early on in her teen years, the memories she initially shared were dark and not very uplifting. Serendipitously, an explosive fire accident that was brought about by these poor choices was what led her to her current moment of success. Her husband was burned in the accident, and with minimal training, she nursed his wounds back to good health quicker than the doctors expected. This experience led her to dive into nursing head first, and as they say, the rest is history. She stated this tragic accident is now a fond memory, and she hopes to continue pursuing her RN credentials so she can help even more people in a clinical nursing environment.
If there is anything I’ve learned from watching Kill Bill 600 times, it’s that eventually the student becomes the master. Culton says that I am one of the many people that propelled him to success. He doesn’t realize how watching him grow inspires me to further success. That even as a student, he is now the teacher. Let’s be clear. I drove out there to support this young man. To let him know how impressed and proud I am, along with many other MHS colleagues that were allowed to guide him towards his current path. To hear him speak truth and wisdom. About his life and into other lives. But hearing him and the others speak reminded me that I’m not finished with my journey. After the ceremony, I caught up with him. He introduced me to his family. He gave me the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received. He was grateful for my presence at this moment and in his life 3 years ago. We shared a few words and challenged each other not to stop accomplishing our goals. Culton will head to Lamar University in Beaumont this fall to continue his education and receive another degree in the near future. As for me, I am not sure what the next few years hold for me. But Culton didn’t stagnate in life, so neither can I.
Whatever bump this is….whatever storm…whatever obstacle….I’ll overcome it. It’s time to cowboy up. Success is not given. It is earned.
Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there.
– Bo Jackson