Keynote Remarks from the College of Education Opening Meeting

College of Education

SUMMARY: This keynote address was such a big hit at our opening meeting for students, that we asked Dr. Hadley permission to reproduce it here.

Keynote Remarks from the College of Education Opening Meeting (Aug. 24, 2021)

by Dr. Donica Hadley

(editor's note: This keynote address was such a big hit at our opening meeting for students, that we asked Dr. Hadley permission to reproduce it here.)


So, today is kind of a BIG deal! I am so incredibly excited to welcome each and every one of you here today. I want you to take a minute, take a deep breath, close your eyes and think about what led you to this room today. What was it, when was it that made you say you wanted to be a teacher? Though I am sure many of you have similar reasons for being here, you each have a unique and personal story that brought you here today.

For me, I was the little girl with pigtails, with those little beads at the end that hit me in the face every time I swung my head around; the little girl who played school and dreamed of being a teacher. I told my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson, I was going to be a teacher. I told my high school guidance counselor I wanted to be a teacher. I told anyone who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was going to be a teacher. (Now for the record, I also told them I was going to be an astronaut and a backup dancer for Michael Jackson, so there’s also that.)   

And here I am, in my 23rd year in education. I’ve been an elementary school teacher, a preschool teacher, an assistant principal, a principal, a college instructor, and a mother of 3 boys. And even though I have never been to space or even to a Michael Jackson concert, I am on a journey of a lifetime!  Today, I am honored and excited, we all are, to welcome you to your teaching journey. Embrace this moment. Whatever, whoever it is or was that led you here, YOU have arrived! 

Teaching is so much more than a profession. Being an educator is a pathway of passion. At some point, each of you decided that this was the journey you were supposed to follow.  There are almost 150 of you in this room and I can almost guarantee that the reason that led each of you to be seated here in front of me today was more than a box you checked or perhaps even a last-minute decision that you needed to make. I believe the reason each of you is here today is because of an event or perhaps a person that has influenced you to some degree. Each of you has a story and that story has led you here today with the hope of one day becoming a teacher. 

I want you to take a minute and think about why you are here today. Why of all the other choices you could have made in choosing a major, why did you choose teaching? Hold on tight to that reason for a minute and let’s just talk about what exactly you all have signed up for.

Let me be the first to tell you, some of the hardest and most influential work that you are about to do will never be fully captured by a photograph, a 'snap' or a tweet.  But let me at least give you a small snapshot of what you really signed up for. These faces I share with you today, these are my why!

You signed up to be the reason someone decides to come to school every morning.  You will be someone's superhero. You have signed up to perhaps give up a planning period to have lunch with a student or even a Friday evening to cheer them on at a sporting event because no one from their family will ever come. You signed up to be someone’s number one fan. You have signed up to help write a college application because no one in their family ever went to college and perhaps needs help with how to help their child take the next step. You will be their parental figure, their role model, their silent hero. You have signed up to do whatever it takes to hold your students' attention to inspire them, empower them; even if it is outside the box and way outside of your own personal comfort zone. You will be the reason someone takes risks or reaches a goal that they perhaps thought to be completely out of their reach. You have signed up to be somebody’s pathway to reach for the stars. As cliche as that may sound, it is a very true and very real statement. 

You will be the reason a student learns in a way that perhaps no one before you has ever been able to figure out. You have signed up to give your students more of yourself than you even knew was humanly possible. You will be the reason a child will believe in themselves. To quote Josh Shipp, "Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story."  And these are only a few snapshots of what you signed up for. Your snapshots, your story, your journey is just beginning.

Today is just the beginning. You will learn invaluable techniques, strategies and methods of how best to teach your students here at James Madison University.  We want you to work hard, ask questions and become fully immersed in lessons that will carry you throughout your journey. Pay close attention to the lessons that humble you, the lessons that allow you to reflect not only on the teacher you are becoming but the lessons that lead you to a place of personal growth. This is where you begin to fine-tune the skills you will find necessary in becoming an effective teacher.  

Your teacher journey will soon be filled with snapshots of your very own. As I share with you some snapshots of my journey as an educator, I want you to look closely at these pictures. Hopefully, these pictures make you smile and dream and become excited for the day you start to build your own collection of photographs. But I also wanted to share with you what these pictures don’t tell you; the stories behind each of your students.  What the pictures can never fully show you are the relationships between these teachers and their students.  

These teachers are not simply teachers. They are educators who have found a way to reach the whole child; this means not just their brain, but their hearts. These teachers work tirelessly each and every day because they know their "why."  These children, their stories become your why. Your reason for everything you will do in your classroom. Your reason for why you continue to learn long past your graduation date, your reason for building a classroom community to feel like a family and your classroom to be a home away from home. Your reason for why you can't pass the dollar bins at Target without thinking about your students or why you learn the latest TikTok dance move so you can have dance-offs with them.

You see, in order to teach them, you first need to reach them and truly believe in the capacity and capability of each and every one of your students, in spite of their stories and because of their stories. And they have stories, just like we do. They have stories that will make you laugh, cry and even sometimes be hard to love at times. But you have signed up to love them. All of them. Anyway. Every... Single…  Day! Not just the ones who might be a little easier to reach and teach. ALL of them. You see, this is not just a college major, or a GPA ranking. Each of the teachers you just saw, for the ones you already know… this is their passion. This is their purpose. Teaching, reaching their students is their why

You may not have your why fully developed today. And even if you think you do, I am positive it will evolve throughout your journey. Reflect on this often. Look around at the people in this room. This is your "wolf pack," your "tribe," your "people."  Learn together, grow together, lift each other up, talk about your WHY. No one will ever truly understand what you go through as a teacher more than your wolf pack.  Lean on each other. We are fortunate to have the ability in today's world to stay connected through technology and social media. Never underestimate the power of your "teacher tribe." They will be your source of inspiration and strength and you will be theirs. They will be there with you to remind you of your why, especially on the days you might need reminding. "It takes a village."

Teaching is hard work. But I can honestly say, in 23 years, I have never felt as though I have ever had to actually go to work. You see, there is a tremendous sense of fulfillment in doing something that you love and are passionate about for a living. This is not work. This is PURPOSE. And these kids, their stories... I can promise you, they need you and they are worth it. They will be your why. Right now, someone, somewhere is waiting for you. And until you meet them, know that everything you do, beginning at this very moment, will impact a life you have not yet even met. I can promise you, your work and influence will indeed leave a lasting impression that will run deeper than you will ever know. 

You are about to move mountains and this is no small feat. But you will move them in a way that is unique to you and life-changing for others. That's kind of a big deal. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Today begins your journey and I am so grateful and honored to welcome each of you to what I believe is the greatest profession you could ever major in. Move mountains, be someone's champion, find your why and teach each child that walks through your door as though they are the most important person in your classroom. Because you know what, they are a really big deal too and they are counting on you to teach them and love them and remind them of just that. Find your why and then live your why. On behalf of all the children you will one day teach and reach, thank you. I wish you all the very best. Be the change. Be the difference. Your journey starts here. Make this journey count, because someone out there is already counting on you. 

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Published: Sunday, September 19, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2023

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