The University of Louisiana at Monroe awarded diplomas to 215 students at the 2007 Summer Commencement Saturday, Aug. 11 in Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
Paxton Oliver, associate dean of the College of Health Sciences, delivered the commencement address. In addition to his administrative role, Oliver is also connected to ULM as an alumnus—he received his bachelor’s degree in government from ULM/NLSC in 1968 and his certification in speech and hearing therapy from ULM/NLU in 1973. He later received his master’s degree in speech language pathology from Louisiana Tech in 1975 and his doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1981.
Oliver opened his commencement speech with humorous questions of his own, acknowledging that the graduates’ excited anticipation to receive their degrees and take on the world was probably more on their minds than what he had to say. “I have no illusions that you will remember my name or my message, but I am convinced that you will always remember your successful ULM journey.”
He continued by discussing the topic of failure, about “coming up short and adjusting. I feel a speaker should talk about what he knows about, and I know about failure. Actually, anyone in the audience could give this speech. All of us have failed and survived…I do not believe that failure is the flip side of success, but the essence of success. It is the middle phase of learning and overcoming.”
Oliver mentioned that the process of failure marks someone as a success builder, not a loser. He relayed several examples to the graduates of famous, brilliant achievers who had at one point reached, failed, and had to reach again, including Isaac Newton (did poorly in grade school), Winston Churchill (failed the sixth grade), Walt Disney (fired for a supposed lack of good ideas), Michael Jordan (cut from his high school basketball team), and Dr. Seuss (turned down 27 times before finally having a written and illustrated book be published).
“There are many challenging opportunities awaiting you out there,” Oliver advised. “How you adjust to coming up short will make or break you.”
He gave an example of one of his own adjustments. “After five years of finishing almost at the top in the Outstanding Teacher Award at ULM, I asked, ‘What’s my problem?’…From 1973 – 1995 my philosophy of teaching was to enhance a student’s failure and help them fail often. Now … who wants a winner of an Outstanding Teacher Award who loves for his students to fail and fail often? At the very least, parents and/or the President would have lynched me.”
A rewording of his philosophy was in order; after minor adjustments to that and his teaching style, he received the award the following year. He had earlier failed to communicate that teaching “’provides a safe environment for students to test hypothesis and make mentored adjustments’” underscoring that failure is not an absolute, it is a process. His adjustment won him a victory.
“Life is not finishing first in all your endeavors. Life is finishing the task even when someone else has passed you by. In the real world there are winners, adjusters, and losers. If you are not a winner on a given day, then research and adjust. Losers are those who do not adjust or adjust without accurately assessing or researching the situation.”
Oliver instructed the graduates to remember that success and learning are both a series of plateaus, and that they should continue their risks, moving to the next bottom rather than merely staying on a declining top. After all, they will go from educational top to the “challenging” position of post college bottom after graduation. “Where you finish depends upon where you stop, and you are the one to determine where you stop.”
“Remember that we have learned much from each other. You brought special and different experiences to ULM and shared them with us. Faculty shared their special experiences with you and you tried their ideas. It’s your turn now and it’s your time now.”
His concluding remarks advised the graduates not to be afraid—not of failure, success with humility, greatness with a commitment to give back, the opportunity to mentor by correcting softly and praising boldly, or again of success, “even if success earns you a commencement speaker assignment someday.”
Oliver congratulated the parents, significant others, family members, and the faculty for providing the support and safe haven the students had needed. “And most importantly, I would like to congratulate the class of 2007 as you graduate from ULM and commence toward your dreams.”
Kimberly Barrett of San Diego, Calif., is the top 2007 summer graduate. Barrett, a clinical laboratory science major, is the daughter of Norm and Marge Fowler and the mother of Zoe Barrett. She graduates summa cum laude with a 3.909 cumulative grade point average.
Several honor graduates were recognized during the ceremonies. They are designated as summa cum laude (3.900-4.000), magna cum laude (3.750-3.899) and cum laude (3.500-3.749).
Click here for a complete list of ULM's summer 2007 graduates