Just before school let out for the summer, I had the opportunity to speak to the Coquina Elementary School graduating 6th grade class in Titusville, FL. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and was pretty nervous, but I’m learning that’s a pretty good position to be in before you give a presentation. It makes you work a little harder to do a good job, and in this case, try to make a lasting impression on the next generation.
I was able to have a conversation with the school Principal, Mrs. Blair Lovelace, and ask if there was anything in particular she wanted me to speak on. Many of Coquina’s students are participants in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program offered to schools in Brevard County, which means many students live in low-income households and don’t always have access to luxuries like tutors, but these kids have some AMAZING teachers and staff to support them. Their mission is “To serve every student with excellence as the standard”, and they most certainly have done that. I was so impressed at how the students made their way to hug their teachers after the ceremony and tell them that they loved them. It was almost as wonderful as hearing Mrs. Lovelace tell me about how the student’s math scores have improved over 30% in the past few years.
I knew I had to make my message inspirational, funny and a genuine reflection of what I value as important to success. I also wanted to keep it short. This wasn’t a college graduation, so I also wanted to be very mindful of time. Mrs. Lovelace introduced me and told the students and their families about my job as a manager and the personnel and tasks that I’m responsible for, then it was my turn to speak. I started by talking about where I grew up because I thought it was important that these students knew that I grew up near the same area that they do. I talked a little about my education and my degree, then I told them 5 things that I think are important for success – from honoring the grace of God at work in your life, to how important it is to dream about what you want, to sharing what you learn with others to help them be better as well.
I’m not big on public speaking (usually starts with some shaking and sweating **insert forehead slap**), but as these opportunities have been coming around more and more, I’m learning that being able to show kids someone that looks like them doing big and exciting things has become more important than any discomfort I have with being front and center. I didn’t get much, if any, exposure to minorities in management or working in STEM when I was growing up, so it’s important to me to show kids today that’s it’s possible. I got there and they can too. I don’t know if I’ve made much of a difference so far, but my hope is that at least one child was impacted that day and started seeing themselves as able to accomplish anything. Not even the sky is the limit. Anything is possible, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Have you had an opportunity like this before? I’d love to hear how you handled the task of trying to positively influence the next generation!