Director Buck speaks at ISU College of Human Sciences graduation
Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck, a first-generation college graduate, said small moments of encouragement had a powerful impact on his educational path as a young student in Cedar Rapids. Buck spoke to an audience of about 1,200, including 120 graduates, at the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences commencement ceremony in Ames. Read his remarks below.
Thank you and congratulations! As an alumnus of Iowa State University for both my Master’s Degree and Ph.D., I am reminded of the excitement that surrounds this important day. Additionally, as a father of six, the oldest of whom is a high school senior and planning to start at ISU in the fall, I am encouraged to see that this day happens for students!
As I was planning my comments for today, I was drawn to the website for the College of Human Sciences and this opening information about the College:
In the College of Human Sciences, we are driven by a passion to help people. We study every aspect of their daily lives, whether it’s how they learn, how they eat, or how they exercise. How they spend money. How they vacation. How they stay well. Even how they dress. We help people expand their potential. Welcome to our world.
In that information, I was reminded of the important work that lies ahead for each of you and the manner in which that work happens.
Before you stands the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, a first-generation college graduate from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So, a question might arise and that is, how does this person arrive at this position in front of us today?
First, it would be important that I acknowledge my parents and the support that they were to my completion of my undergraduate degree. Any time we talked about life after high school as I grew up, the emphasis was always on a phrase that began with “when you go to college…” not if, and that is an important distinction in messaging. For the sake of these comments, I would eagerly acknowledge that my parents played a vital role in my graduation, and can we take a moment to thank the parents, grandparents, guardians and others who are here and have been and continue to be supportive?
Second, and this goes back to the opening comments from the website, there were a number of other individuals who supported me in my journey. As I relay some of my stories and experiences, I would invite you to hear what is happening in each of them. The power is in the individual moments – helping people, how they eat, how they exercise, and in my case, how they learn – not in the culmination of events that has a person in a statewide role such as the Director of the Department of Education. Please bear with me; my examples are school-related as you might guess, but hopefully the intent of the comments outshine the actual words.
My first thought goes back to 6th grade, and my parents met with Mrs. VanFleet and Mr. Williamson, my 6th grade teachers. I had done such little work in their classes – I actually remember some of the list on my report card – no Abraham Lincoln report, no reptile project, no book report, and lots more – that there was conversation about my underperformance. My principal, Mr. Small who indicated he saw the potential in me beyond not completing the schoolwork, advocated on my behalf and as a result, motivated me to bring up my grades for the rest of the school year. One moment of advocacy on the behalf of a 12 year old student he was confident would improve.
My next thought goes to my 10th grade English teacher – Mr. Wojtowicz (or Woj) as we all called him. One day in class he was walking around with a Post-it pad and providing feedback on our writing assignment. For the educators in the crowd, he was providing formative feedback before formative feedback was in.
At any rate, when he stopped by my desk, he wrote me a note on a Post-it that simply said, “Always do your best.” You see, he had been checking in on me, and my first trimester grades -- we were on trimesters at my high school -- were not very good. In that moment, he wanted to be an encouragement to me.
So, what happened to the note? I took it home and “laminated” it. In 1984, that meant that I carefully covered it in strips of Scotch tape. I then taped it to the mirror in my bathroom and it hung there as a daily reminder to me for the rest of my high school career to always do my best, and my performance improved.
Recently, I had a chance to be the luncheon speaker at the Extended Learning Program (ELP) Fall Conference. The introduction that was provided included a humbling story. It tells of a person at the Department of Education, upon hearing of my appointment, who indicated to a colleague that her son had had a 7th grade Life Science teacher named Mr. Buck back in Ankeny years ago, and she wondered if I was the same person. It turns out I was.
She then relayed the story to the person who introduced me that all through elementary school, when they went to conferences for their son, the teachers focused on his behaviors and his inability to pay attention in class. You see, he was (and is) an incredibly bright person for whom school did not really resonate. She went on to say that when they sat down across from Mr. Buck, he indicated that “he loved their son’s amazing brain and that he -- in this case I -- was going to do everything I could to challenge that brain in positive ways over the course of the rest of the school year.”
What makes these stories important? The idea that they mattered in the moment and likely in each case, the person providing the support didn’t think again about the moment. I am confident Mr. Small and Mr. Wojtowicz didn’t remember those moments, and I know that I did not remember that conversation with those parents back in Ankeny. However, the person experiencing these moments is standing before you recalling these events today.
You have chosen human degrees and, ultimately, human professions. In your various roles, you will have hundreds of opportunities to impact the lives of others. While lots of large-scale work can happen depending on the role you have and the potential influence it can represent, it is important to keep in mind that the real impact comes from the daily, seemingly and often, incidental moments that may or may not even be an important moment for each of you, but they are for the people with whom you will work and serve.
Best wishes to each of you going forward! I wish you nothing but the best, and as importantly, the best for the people with whom you will interact and lead.