Windmill 3

When I tell people I grew up on a farm in Kansas, there are a number of reactions from Wizard of Oz jokes to curiosity about the path that led me to my current role in higher education as a Dean.  The thread of education has been woven prominently throughout the generational tapestry of my family.  In this respect, there were many footsteps to follow.  My great, great grandfather from my father’s side came to the United States with his wife from Ireland in the 1880s and moved to Kansas from Boston.  The land he purchased contained apple orchards and he sold the apples to buy lumber for the house in which I was eventually raised; I was the fifth generation to grow up in the Kansas farm house.  I am privileged to have deep roots and a rich knowledge of my family’s history, some of which came from watching very old movies of previous generations living in the house where my parents still live.

Kansas Farm House

Amid the family stories are ones that focus on education, stories that dispel some people’s preconceived ideas about growing up on a farm.  My grandfather and his two siblings were born in the farm house and grew up working the farm in ways that were even more difficult than when my immediate family had that responsibility; a strong work ethic was another prominent theme in my family.  My grandfather, his brother and his sister all went to college as did all of their children years later.  My grandmother and my mother, both of whom grew up on farms, also went to college.  Correct grammar, whether speaking or writing, was a requirement growing up in my house.  My sister and I never doubted we would go to college because it was an expectation, not a choice.  My grandmother, valedictorian of her high school class, told me many times growing up, “When you get an education, no one can take that away from you.”

The day I graduated with my undergraduate degree, my parents were in my dorm room and made reference to all of my books.  While many of the books I read and the classes I took set a strong foundation for my eventual profession in speech-language pathology, I turned to my parents and said, “Most of what I learned in college did not come from books.”  The professors challenged me to grow as a person as much as they challenged me to gain academic knowledge.   Two additional degrees and a career that now spans 23 years at SUNY Plattsburgh have only deepened my commitment to the value of education.

A number of students coming to SUNY Plattsburgh each year are the first generation in their family to attend college.  The student-focused approach we have at SUNY Plattsburgh creates a great place for all students to learn and grow, but especially for first-generation students.  I know our students will learn a tremendous amount of academic knowledge in the years they are in college, but I also know they will develop into strong citizens through mentoring and through participating in campus activities.

We have the privilege at SUNY Plattsburgh of being in positions that can have a powerful, positive influence on the lives of young adults.  We challenge them to push beyond their comfort zones and to explore who they can be in this world.  Our Shared Values, along with clear expectations in a supportive environment, provide students with challenges to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will positively influence their generation as well as future generations.  No one will ever be able to take these things away from them.

The picture below is of a young woman who graduated from the Teacher Education program last semester.  It was a touching moment when the audience realized there was a little soul in yellow regalia walking in the footsteps of her mother.  This touched the hearts of all who were watching.  There were cheers from previous generations.  Future generations will be inspired by the stories of this time and will have footsteps to follow.