Educator of the Year Speech from Dr. Coronado - April 25, 2012

  • Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Dr. Richard Coronado delivered a moving speech as the outgoing Educator of the Year at the 2012 Honors Banquet on April 25.  Below is the text of his presentation:

 

I have been asked to make a few comments on the enterprise of college teaching. I recently pulled out the press release and was reminded that I received this honor for “commitment to academic excellence and living out the principles of Catholic social thought.” I will say a few words about each of these points.

 

For me a key component of a commitment to academic excellence is to have high expectations of students. Expectations, however, don’t appear in a vacuum. They appear in community, for us, the community of a classroom.

 

A class takes time to get going, it takes time for people to get to know each other, it takes time for trust to develop. It takes time to develop a real community of scholarship and learning where expectations of excellence can develop and be fulfilled.

 

As I tried to recall stories of academic excellence, I kept thinking of our talks in the department, Dr. Harris and myself, now joined by Dr. Young. We talk regularly in the department about how students are growing in their ability to use economic theory, how they are becoming strong, more mature thinkers, and then we see them go off to careers, graduate schools, law schools and other post-graduate work. They have clearly been a part of the pursuit of excellence.

 

I thought of one particular student who wanted to do a Discovery Project comparing libertarian economics and Catholic social thought. The project took months and in the end he had written eleven or so versions of the paper before he presented it. The presentation was wonderful. In fact, Dr. White of the Theology Department still reminds me about the talk. This student also gave the talk at a meeting of the Missouri Valley Economics Association meetings in Memphis, not with the student papers, but with the faculty papers and it was well received. He later volunteered, I hope jokingly, the following comment: “Well, now I know the meaning of excellence. Not that I’ll ever do that again, but at least I know what it means.” He went on to graduate from KU law school and has a fine career in the law.

 

But, although we have other such stories, I was drawn back to a much different kind of story. It is the story of a student in one of the principles of economics classes. She started with an F on the first test. I meet with everyone who gets a D or F on the first two tests and she said that she had expected the low grade. She didn’t understand the material well and had heard my tests were hard. So we ran through some steps to take, spend more time with material, do some worksheets, work out problems and see me along the way for help.

 

On the next test she earned a grade in the low 60s. Well, we kept meeting and working at it throughout the semester. Over time, I could see the depth of her determination; her work showed that she was spending even more time with the material. By the third test, it was clear that she was giving it everything she had … and the test still did not make it to a C. To make a long and somewhat arduous story short, she did finally earn a C on the tests and she made it through the course. She could discuss the concepts of the course at a C level. Like my earlier more talented student, this time it was I who learned what excellent work consists of.

 

To this day, I am inspired by that effort. And all this from someone who would never be invited to tonight's banquet honoring academic excellence. I learned from her that excellence consists of a sustained unremitting effort to give it your best at all times, even in the face of what seems like overwhelming odds.

 

The same impulse to know and love that drives academic life also propels us in economics here at B.C. to study and teach the body of Catholic social thought. Early on in my tenure here, some students and I formed the Hunger Coalition. We adopted from the start Mother Teresa as the patron of the Hunger Coalition. In her words:

 

     "You need a pure heart in order to be able to see and to touch others; to become the love and compassion of God today. Start with your own family; find the poor next to you. If you can find the human need in your own family, you will be able to find it next door, and then further in the city. Do you know of your own neighbor? Do you know their suffering? Maybe there is a blind man for whom you can read the newspaper. Maybe there is someone who needs you to shop for them in the market. Start with small things and do the small things with great love.
     I appeal to you to come and find the poor right in your midst, next door, in your city. It is so easy to think of the poor outside your area and forget to see those nearby. Ask God for the grace to find the poor so you can help.
     My prayer for you is that you be open to the grace of God and allow God to use you to be His love, to be His compassion in the world today."

 

We are called to use our talents to build community across social lines and barriers. Most recently, we are reminded by Pope Benedict of our vocation to share our talents with the poor of the world. All human communities, he informs us, must be filled with the spirit of gratuity - by this he means the free gift of self, especially in a world of exploding inequalities. We all share a vocation to help meet the urgent needs of the people of the world. In the economy of charity to which we are all called, in which we are called to give not only what we have, but who we are, we must work hard to develop our talents. In our current roles of students and teachers, we are called to the pursuit of excellence in education as we prepare to live our lives of family, worker, citizen, and participating member of the world community.

 

Thank you for your attention.
 

Rick Coronado