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Art McCoy

I want to thank Chancellor Tom George and Interim Dean of Education Kathleen Haywood for the privilege of being your speaker for this awesome occasion.

I want to recognize all of the faculty and staff; parents, grandparents and other individuals in the role of parent; family, friends, significant others who helped bring this day into existence, including my parents who are here today.  Truly you helped form us into who we are today. 

And, to the graduates of 2011, you look beautiful. You did it. We are so proud of you.  Congratulations! 

Since most graduation speeches are soon forgotten, I thought what the heck….I might as well just tell you the truth.

  • What if … nearly all of the jobs were taken (Create new fields, job, careers, & opportunities to serve)
  • What if … the education pension system could not carry the growing number of retirees and forced you to pay in double or work an addition decade. (Diversify your portfolio) 
  • What if nearly all of the schools were failing according to government standards (Redefine what is successful knowing and doing)
  • What if for the first time in America’s history, there are national standards and a national test similar to China and Japan (Focus on strong student relationships and adult partnerships)

It would be a reality show called, “This is Your Life” or better yet, “Survivor”—Special episode: The Commencement. 

I am delighted to have my parents hear today—please wave, my wife of nearly 17 years, Belinda, and our daughter.

I am the great grandson of slaves and indentured servants;

Grandson of two domestic servant grandmothers, and a minister and ice and coal business owner as my grandfathers

Son of Norma Brown McCoy and A. J. McCoy, Sr.

My mother birthed me at the age of 43 and doctors warned her that I would suffer from mental retardation as they called it then.  My mother pressed forward to not abort me.  And, I came out fine. She developed glaucoma and became legally blind. But, despite this hardship, she pressed on to teach me to be a person of excellence in all that I say and do.

My father, taught me through his own experiences to be a person of strong discipline and to never quit.  You see, he was a right leg amputee since age 3. 

Although neither of them received a college degree, they instilled the importance of an education.   My dad would say, “in the school of hard knocks, he who learns must suffer.  So, get your education and do better to me.  Each generation must do better.” 

Through it all, as a couple they have been very blessed and successfully founded a daycare and church in St. Louis.

While going to college at UMSL and taking 25 credit hours a semester, Mom would say, “why do you always choose the hard road?” But this road led to where I am now.  I did not know that any of these things would happen.  I was not the smartest kid, but I knew how to work hard, and I knew I wanted to do better than my parents, because of the sacrifices they made for me to be here. 

When local gangs broken into our house and stabbed my bed with a note that said next time I would be in it, my parents mustered all of their strength and money to move to a better place with the hope of providing me a better education and environment.

From this I learned that tackling the tough things and hard roads in life makes you truly come to know yourself, that makes you stronger, better able to succeed and relate in any environment.

I encourage you to get to know your students and colleagues well.  Doing so, will be the source of your greatest lessons learned and relationships to cherish for a lifetime. 

Another time, my Mom asked, “can you keep a job—you had 5 positions in 12 years?”

In time, she began to see a pattern, which showed a plan behind the position changes.  We all know that Generation Xers and those in the Millennium generation will change jobs and even careers often. 

Here is the point: One’s purpose is more important than positions. Know your purpose and be purposeful in each position. Take the time to perfect a craft aligned with your purpose.

Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you are disciplined and determined, you will succeed. But in all of your dreaming and success, it will only be of great value if it focuses onservice to others.  

Ultimately, success comes chiefly through self-sacrifice and excellent service.

My loved ones and teachers, many of whom are seating in the front row and on this stage, charged me with this call: I challenge you to summon the courage to tackle the tough things, purposefully, through service.

Each generation has a specific task, an identifying moment in time, a challenge and calling of service to society.  Ours is not abolishing slavery; it is not tackling Jim Crow or industrialization; it is not Watergate or sending a person to the moon; it is not tackling Jane Crow or “tearing down that wall” to end the Cold War; it is not even electing the first African-American or minority to the White House.

It is not the challenge of Desert Storm, Operation Iraq, or warring against terrorism — we are indebted to our men and women in armed services for putting their lives on the line to close these chapters.

Our generation and specifically, you, the graduates of education here today, must dedicate your life to the service of warfare against ignorance in all places but especially here at home. 

Many people believe there is evil in the world, but, all people know that there is an abundance of ignorance.  This is our calling, our purpose.  

Education is the foremost civil right and human right issue of this generation with more than 60 million students in public schools. 

We are at war against ignorance. 

 We cannot allow

  • Over 50% dropout rates among urban and rural school districts to continue;
  • Over medication of students and over identification of educational disabilities among underrepresented students;
  • 70% of people in prisons to be functionally illiterate; 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system to continue to be functionally illiterate; and 4th grade state test scores in some states accurately predicting the number of prison cells to build based on the students scoring below proficiency. 

Something is wrong with this and it is up to us to stop it.
We cannot allow capitalism or narrow educational trends to trump true cultivation through a liberal arts education: this is essential to well-roundedness and humanity.  
We cannot allow the multiplicity of information—social media, news, and blog—to replace valuable knowledge, and impede individuals’ wisdom and love for humanity.

We are the soldiers on the front line of this fight.    We must succeed. 

We can not afford to join the blame game with others. Not on our watch…

  • 1983 US Congress blamed public schools in A Nation at Risk
  • Business blames universities and, lately, the US Department of Education has joined that chorus
  • Universities often blame high schools
  • High schools often blame middle schools
  • Middle school educators often blame elementary educators
  • Elementary educators often blame poor early childhood education and parents
  • Parents often blame the system and society –
      • Taxes are too high
      • If I could just get to my child into that elite private school or charter school through a voucher system or open enrollment; then, everything would work out
  • While society waits for another No Child Left Behind or, I don’t know …maybe even superman.


Know that public schools belong to the public.  It was made up of the people, carried out by the people, and for the people—an educated electorate.  A democracy is only as good as its citizens.

You have the esteemed responsibility to look after tomorrows’ leaders through today’s students.  I think you are super to have that calling.  You are well equipped.  We must share our stories with students and stakeholder as if their lives and ours depended on it. And, by working together, we can foster super communities, super students, and super places of learning by bridging the gaps of the heart, head, and hand through our purposeful service. 

So, I congratulate today and in advance for countless days of listening, learning, and leading with love through purposeful service.