Joe Williams, a criminal justice lecturer in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts who won the Outstanding Teaching Award for Non-Tenure Track Faculty this year, was the keynote speaker at this year's convocation ceremony. He addressed new students and families during a ceremony Aug. 19 in the Gordon Field House. Below is the full text of William’s speech:
Thank you Provost Haefner for that introduction. Dr. Destler, Provost Haefner,
Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Faculty and Staff, Families and Students:
Welcome. Before I make my remarks, I’ve got to make a quick comment. Back in June, I get this email from my new friend Sue Provenzano who said: “Hey Joe: how’d you like to be the Keynote Speaker at Convocation?” I then called my wife and told her and she said: “Congratulations Honey: you’re going to do just fine.” I let out a very weak: “yeah.”
So I got to thinking and figured it out: this is Provost Haefner’s doing and here’s why. He stopped by my office one day to again congratulate me on winning the Outstanding Teaching Award. He says: “Hey Joe. What are you working on?” I said: “My Corrections class.” He didn’t know that I like to talk – a lot. I’m looking at this new chair of the Committee on Corrections and he’s pushing some tough and radical legislation.
Second, I’m looking at the billions of taxpayer dollars that New York state spends on prisons and it’s an awful lot.
Finally, I said: “I can’t believe how violent the inmates are. There’s gangs and drugs and fighting and rioting, and some of them actually escape.” Without taking a breath, I then said excitedly: “So, you wanna go to prison?” He immediately looked at his watch and said: “well, I must be going now.” I meant to say that “would you like to visit prison?”
I’m thinking that he’s thinking: “OK Joe. You want to be a funny man? Tell you what: I’ll make him Keynote Speaker at Convocation; stick him out in front of 6,000 people, and then watch him squirm.”
I only have two words for you Mr. Provost: “IT WORKED: Because I’m scared as heck of here.” I told my friends Dawn Murray and Stephanie Rankin that I wouldn’t be nervous – but I am.
I’m kidding: Jeremy’s a very nice man and so I want to thank him and Sue or anyone who might have played a role in allowing me to speak to you today.
But I want to talk to the students. Please focus on my message because I believe what I have to say is important. You might find these words boring. In fact, William Daniels Phillips, one of the best Academic Convocation speakers I’ve ever heard, gave an interesting quote when he spoke here:
“I have listened to a lot of commencement addresses and affirm that they have been almost uniformly forgettable.”
Perhaps this speech will be too might be forgettable – but I hope not. Since I am an alumni, I have some simple but important words of wisdom – and I hope you don’t forget.
FIRST, be happy and excited to be here. RIT and NTID is the brass ring: and you should want to work hard for this goal. Let the anticipation motivate you. Remember that you must: Prioritize your schedule – time management is critical; classes first, studying second, other things third – students do this the other way around; Make sacrifices – less socializing; Get help when you need it: “I don’t need help Professor.” Studied the night before and got an A – can’t do that here.
Second, eliminate doubts and fears. Let me say that if you doubt that you belong here: STOP!!! You’re here because you deserve to be here. I know Dan Shelley (Associate Vice President and Director of Undergraduate Admissions) and Sally Douglas (Senior Director of Admissions): and they’re two of the sharpest people I know at RIT. So I know the team that they have in the Admissions Office is just as sharp: and so I know you wouldn’t be here unless you belonged. It doesn’t matter if you’ve come in under some summer program or early start program: you belong here. So eliminate doubt – and have a strong sense of belonging.
As far as fear goes, Dr. Susan Jeffers, in her book: “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” writes that fear will follow you on any new venture. Just work through it.”
Third, pick excellent mentors and role models (maybe a Professor). Pick and choose someone who is uplifting and inspiring. Even our own Dr. Sandra Johnson, SR. Vice President of Student Affairs, in a recent article talked about the importance of getting good mentors. I have several: Dr. Howard Ward, Dr. Kevin McDonald, Dr. John Klofas and Dr. Judy Porter to name a few. There are so many others that I can’t mention.
One of my biggest role models is my barber: Shariff Bryant - he owns a barber shop out here in Henrietta called Flawless. He’s never been to college but is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. I usually leave his shop motivated and full of hope and promise for life. He says: “Joe: if the people in your life won’t uplift you, won’t motivate you, won’t celebrate you, and are always against you, GET RID OF THEM!”
Fourth, guard your mind and be very careful what you believe in. When I was 18, the WORST MISTAKE I ever made in my life was listening to people who doubted me and didn’t have my best interest in mind. I overvalued their opinions – all of which were negative. That plagued me for quite a bit in my adulthood. Always believe in yourself and find others that do as well.
Earl Nightingale, considered by some to be the Dean of Personal Development (and one of my personal heroes), says: “Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind, and nourish with repetition and emotion, will one day become a reality.”
So, plant success in your minds and nourish it daily. In the end, it will pay off.
Finally, to the Parents: I want to applaud you: you’ve done well. We trust that you’ve instilled your student with the proper value system they will need. You can give your student space now to grow: you don’t need to hang over them. I can hear the students saying: “take it easy Professor: someone’s got to pay the tuition bill.” Please give your students a little room. They know where home is if they need you.
So remember students, although this speech will certainly be forgotten, please don’t forget what I’ve shared with you – I’m an alumni and we are family now.
I thank you for coming; Families drive carefully, God bless everyone and have a great evening.