Graduating class speaker Ashley Goral, of Greenfield, spoke of the importance of “magic” in teaching lessons and realizing one’s full potential at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s afternoon commencement ceremony May 16 at Kolf Sports Center.
Here is a transcript of her speech:
“‘You haven’t lost the magic.’
“That’s what she said to me. Those five words changed my life.
“‘Did you hear me? I meant it,’ she said. Her little, 9-year-old eyes were wide, and her head was cocked to one side like she’d just made an amazing discovery. I was in the middle of teaching an interactive math lesson to a small group of students who were struggling.
“I thought about what she said to me. I began to realize what she meant. Whatever it was, the ‘magic’ the little fourth-grader was talking about, it had been with me for a long time. It was something I had carried with me since I was a child. It was a part of me I’ve fought to keep alive without ever realizing its significance.
“This special thing, this ‘magic,’ first appeared when I was 5. Mrs. Schinske, my teacher, asked us to draw pictures of what each of us wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a teacher.
“Graduates, parents, family members and friends, I know you can all relate. Think back to a time when you were asked. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Among us today are dreamers — individuals who, years ago, aspired to be firefighters. Ballerinas. Professional athletes. Veterinarians. Astronauts. Police officers. The President of the United States. Doctors.
“There is almost something magical about those careers we wanted to pursue when we were 5. Then, as we grew older, our goals and aspirations changed. As we became adolescents, then teenagers and finally adults, reality began to set in. We had to make sacrifices to reach our career goals. We forgot about learning lessons in the sandbox and started to learn from books and professionals.
“At 22 years old, I anticipated learning some of life’s best lessons in classrooms at UW Oshkosh. I never would have imagined that I would have learned some of life’s best lessons on the playground. So, today, we’re going to revisit the sandbox.
“I’ve realized that children make some of the best teachers. Their innate curiosity allows them to pose amazing questions and make keen observations. There’s a certain magic in the way they see the world. What I mean is simply this: Children have a way of saying what we all feel in a nonthreatening, sometimes hilarious way. I’d like to share with you some advice children have recently shared with me.
“A seventh grader wrote this in his journal, ‘It sucks to be the smelly kid. I think it sucks to be the new kid, too.’ Hey, we’ve all been there. Lesson: Shower. Often. And being the new kid is tough. We’ve all been there, but we all survived. We’re here, aren’t we?
“A middle school student offered this morsel of advice: ‘The more weight you lose, the less of you there is to love.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself. Lesson: It is OK not to be Barbie-thin. And that Snickers bar you ate at lunch? It just means there will be more of you to love tomorrow.
“During a game of kickball, a third grader politely informed me that I could never score if I stayed on second base. Lesson: Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. And even when you are brave enough to play, don’t let the fear of an out keep you from trying to score.
“A kindergartner told me once during a lesson about plants that ‘love makes things grow.’ This little boy was not just talking about a garden, though. He was talking about everything. Isn’t it true that love helps every one of us to grow in ways we can’t even understand? Lesson: Let love in. Let it do its job.
“Since this child unknowingly taught me a lesson about love, I thought it would be interesting to take things a step further and investigate fourth graders’ thoughts about love. ‘What is it?’ I asked them. Here are some of their responses:
“‘Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.’
“‘Love will find you, even if you hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was 5, but the girls keep finding me.’
“‘I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.’
“The following response, though quite serious, impressed me and took me by surprise: ‘Love keeps you coming back here everyday, doesn’t it Miss Goral?’
“I couldn’t help but nod my head. Tears welled up in my eyes. The lesson I learned is simple: Follow your heart. Do what you do because you love it, because it is still magical to you. Life’s too short to waste being miserable doing a job you hate everyday.
“So this is your challenge: Listen to the children in your lives. Hear the important things they have to say and don’t just listen to them with a deaf ear. Borrow their livelihood, their youth. Take their simple and seemingly naïve ideas to heart. And, sometimes, you can even laugh at the things they say. Take their advice. And use it. Apply it. See how much simple advice can change your life.
“Whether you are walking out of this gymnasium today as a future social worker, a future nurse, a future CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a future accountant, a future educator or as a future something-else, I hope you never forget to dream big.
“And I hope you never forget to listen to the voice of your inner child. Find that ‘magic’ in your life. And don’t lose it. It’s that magic that makes each of you a special individual. It’s that magic that makes your career plans as exciting as they were when you were only 5.
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