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Academic Dean Dr. Jeneen Graham Discusses Academic Honor

26 April 2013 admin 4,345 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

Jeneen GrahamAs the keynote speaker for St. Margaret’s 2013 Cum Laude Induction Ceremony, Academic Dean Dr. Jeneen Graham shared a thought-provoking message of academic honor or integrity. Below is her full address:

“Congratulations to our Cum Laude members! You have worked hard, made sacrifices and ultimately distinguished yourselves as some of the highest achieving scholars in the nation. You have much to be proud of and I am honored to address you today. As a researcher and educator, I have great respect for numbers and the clarity of thought that is communicated by a well-crafted mathematical analysis. Your GPAs are a good example of this mathematical clarity. Your GPA, or any test score for that matter, is meant to be a proxy of all that you have learned. It is not the sum total of what you have learned, but the combination of assessments and products that are meant to represent what you have learned. I want to remind you today, that your GPA is a wonderful reflection of your hard work and capability, but it does not define you. You are the beautiful accumulation of knowledge and experience that has been purposefully acquired in the classroom, the sports field, the Hurlbut Theatre, The EDGE, the Chapel and myriad other places. You could never be boiled down to a number, and please don’t ever allow that to happen.

“Today, I’d like to spend a little time discussing the concept of academic honor or integrity. When we think about academic honor and integrity, our mind immediately jumps to the cheating scandals that so frequently hit the media. Every time it happens, I experience the same sinking feeling, the same disappointment, and the same frustration that we are failing to communicate what really matters in our schools. Researchers around the nation have made the statement that cheating is an epidemic in our high schools and universities. The evidence to support this claim is everywhere. In a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, over 3,600 surveyed high school students yielded some very interested findings. Only 11 percent of students said they placed a high or very high value on academic integrity policies. Twenty-four percent claimed that it was ok to cheat if future success is at risk. Even more interestingly, 60 percent of students said it was morally wrong to cheat, but only 40 percent of students said it was morally wrong to cheat on school work. What does that mean? Why is there a 20 percent gap between regular cheating and academic cheating? Why is academic cheating considered different than regular cheating? I believe it is because our nation has failed to focus on the process of learning and moreover, failed to understand the true meaning of learning. It seems to me that cheating is actually a symptom of our misunderstanding of the relationship between process and product, and where the emphasis needs to lie. Professor Susan Ambrose has the following to say about learning: “One: Learning is a process not a product. Two: Learning is a change in knowledge, beliefs, behaviors or attitudes. Three: Learning is not something done to students, but something that students do to themselves.

“You are the next generation of leaders for this country and the world, and for everyone’s sake, you need to focus on the process of learning. The educational offerings at this school are truly second to none. We are a place where you can learn and grow in any and all directions, but only if you engage in the process. This process of learning is something that only you can do to yourself. I know as a parent there are days when I wish I could just do it for my kids, but that defeats the whole purpose. We humans make errors, and they are particularly noteworthy when we spend an undue amount of time focusing on product and neglecting process. This is abundantly clear in the world of finance, consider Enron, but also much too frequent in the world of education. When we focus on the bottom line or the number, there is a strong temptation to achieve at any cost.

“When we take this concept of academic honesty a step farther and begin to question what it means to be a learner with integrity, we discover a new layer of the concept. Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” I love this quote because it mentions the notion of light. Inside of all of you is a light, it is your true north, it is what makes you you – and different from the rest of us. Some of you expose that light when working in the robotics lab, some of you feel it shine on the sports fields and others feel it like a rush when you are helping someone in need. When you find that light and begin to cultivate it, you can experience what is called flow – which is famous Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s word for true engagement. Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

“Some of you may be thinking – how can I find flow and be engaged when I have all this work to do? To answer this question, I’m going to give you an example from my past. From the days when I was a straight A student who clearly didn’t understand the basics of the solar system, as indicated by my famous senior year statement. I grew up in a small town in western Massachusetts – about an hour out of Boston. My father was a full-time hairdresser and a part-time farmer and my mother was a stay at home mom and the best Italian cook I know. They never had the chance to go to college, but they were hopeful I would. As a young person, I loved school and found it fun. As time wore on, school became less fun and a lot more stressful for me. Somewhere along the line my innate love of learning and curiosity had been extinguished and I found myself completely preoccupied by my grades. I was the proverbial grade grubber, never truly engaged in the process, but extremely concerned about the end product. I rarely took the opportunity to reflect on my learning and instead tirelessly moved forward with brute force. I missed opportunities to develop relationships with peers and mentors. I missed figuring out what I cared about and who I wanted to be. I missed the very essence of a liberal arts education. I missed so very much. Fast forward to college, by sheer force of will, I was admitted to Dartmouth College and matriculated in the fall of 1992. I felt like I had made it – I had achieved my goals. It is a sad state of affairs when one’s goals only get them through 18 years of life. In my first year, I was invited to be a member of the women in science association because I had indicated that chemistry would be my preferred major. I chose chemistry because I was good at it, which really was the only way in which I could evaluate such a decision. During that freshman year, I had a most destabilizing experience. An English literature professor asked me a simple question, he said, “DiBenedetto – what do you think about that passage?” I began to recount what I thought I had read. He then said, “No – what do you think?” I was entirely stymied by this simple question. I muddled through an answer and was completely undone by the simple proposition that I should have had my own answer, something unique and authentic to contribute to the conversation. In that moment and throughout that year, I realized that I was not a learner – I had probably stopped being a learner well back in middle school. When I think back, it is as if I was just marking time in those years. There was no joy, no passion, no interest – what a total waste of time and opportunity. I frequently wish I could go back and take those classes again. Fortunately, my freshman year experience helped me change my attitude and re-engage in the learning process. I changed majors and chose anthropology – because I absolutely loved it and was passionate about learning. My parents were disappointed by my choice initially, but when they saw how engaged I was and how truly happy I was – they supported me 100 percent. It was as if I had come to life. I took advantage of my learning at Dartmouth; I was authentically interested in growing as a thinker and began to see that I might have something important to say. I worked hard in college, but somehow it wasn’t stressful. I graduated with honors from Dartmouth, but not because I was focused on the grades, because I was engaged in the process.

“I know you have heard this message before, but I want you to understand when you lose focus on the process of learning and the goals of becoming a more sophisticated and educated thinker, you lose and we lose. We need your minds to be focused, curious, energized and passionate about your path in life. We need you to challenge yourself and take an occasional academic risk. Research has proven what we already know to be true; failure is one of our best teachers. If you focus on growth and becoming a better thinker, I guarantee your teachers will be there to support your efforts. We are looking for the next Steve Jobs, who was bold enough to incorporate his knowledge of calligraphy and print design with his vast understanding of computer technology. Try to take advantage of everything here, because you can’t possibly quantify how each piece of knowledge and experience helps to shape your mind and your character. I know so many of you so often think– when will I ever use that? But, you might be surprised. Today more than ever, we need people who can understand complex problems from multiple perspectives. We need historians that think mathematically. We need engineers who understand the emotional gravity of a beautifully designed product. There is a perfect place in this world for you, but only if you claim it. If you are a learner with integrity who is focused on the process – you will succeed. The product will be there because of your ruthless focus on process. Good luck to you all and thank you for being our next generation of leaders. We are all honored to watch you grow and learn and ultimately – find your light.”



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