Hats flew in the air as McKay School graduates celebrated scholastic achievements and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. At convocation, 257 degrees were awarded which included 191 bachelor’s, 33 master’s, 16 doctoral, and 7 educational specialist degrees. In addition, 27 of these graduates received the scholastic recognition of summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude.
Kimberly Ellsworth opened graduation with a stirring speech, urging graduates to notice the small and quiet moments in life. She said, “We have the power to make true change, but this change will be in the form of quiet moments that may never be recognized by the world.”
A quiet moment that touched Ellsworth’s heart happened while she was working one-on-one with students in a special education classroom. There was a girl with Down syndrome who was having a difficult time learning how to spell her name. After several weeks, she was finally able to spell it. Ellsworth was thrilled for the young student who accomplished her goal. As Ellsworth was driving home that day, she realized, “The true joy in education does not come from the significant leaps of knowledge. . . . Rather, it comes from taking the time to celebrate the tiny moments of success.”
Ellsworth reminded the audience that “the Savior sees us in the same light. He celebrates our daily, tiny victories more than anyone else, because he knows us perfectly and individually.”
During her time at BYU, Ellsworth was both a teacher’s assistant in child development and a volunteer at a camp that aims to help children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. She plans to teach in west Los Angeles as her husband attends graduate school. Ellsworth is passionate about her career path and said, “I esteem my career in education as the highest and most noble profession an individual could pursue. . . . Our path is the same path that our Savior, the Master Teacher, chose to devote his life to.”
Hannah Stokes was the second graduate to address the McKay School. Stokes is graduating with a PhD in counseling psychology and plans to teach at a small liberal arts college in Ohio this coming fall. In her talk, Stokes shared a few valuable lessons about teaching that she learned while babysitting her three “rambunctious nephews.”
While her sister and brother-in-law were gone, Stokes set up one of the boys’ favorite activities—playing with shaving cream. She doled out the first glob of shaving cream, and her nephew exclaimed, “Wow Auntie Hannah, you gave me a lot! Mommy never gives us this much!” Pretty soon there was shaving cream all over the kitchen, the boys, and herself.
An important lesson that she learned from this experience was to remain connected and engaged. She asked, “What would have happened if I had become angry and shut down [my nephew’s] little voice or berated him for making a mess that was at least partly my fault?” In answer to that question she explained, “I would have missed out on how much fun it was to play with my nephews. . . . There was excitement in exploring and playing together! I got to see those boys’ curiosity at its fullest.” Stokes related this experience to teaching difficult students. She said, “There is a sustaining joy and creativity that comes when students finally, after all that work, understand what you are trying to teach them.”
Stokes admitted, “Life is far more difficult, painful, and messy than my simple story of too much shaving cream.” However, she believes that “sometimes the mess also comes with tenderness, closeness, warmth, and giggles.” At the conclusion of her speech, Stokes encouraged graduates to “have the courage to love those you teach through the giant messes.”
The concluding speaker at convocation was the assistant dean of the McKay School of Education, Alva H. Merkley. He offered inspiring remarks advising graduates to love their fellow men. One of Merkley’s greatest inspirations was his grandfather. Merkley said, “My grandfather was not an active member of the Church, but I loved the feelings of safety, kindness, goodness, and generosity I sensed when I was in his presence.” One of Merkley's favorite things to do as a child was to sit on his grandfather’s lap and inhale and savor the smells that surrounded him—cigarettes, coffee, beer, wheat dust, and automotive grease."
When his grandfather passed away, Merkley remembers the masses of neighbors, friends, colleagues, and friends that attended the funeral. His grandfather made a large impact on the community simply because he loved everyone. After that experience. Merkley resolved to be the kind of man his grandfather was.
Years passed, and Merkley’s resolve to be like his grandfather ebbed and flowed. As a young professional, Merkley chose to pursue law because he was told in high school and college to “go for the money.” Although he had a very successful career in Vancouver, Canada, practicing complex commercial trial litigation, Merkley realized that he was missing out on being a husband, yoked partner, patriarch, and father.
Merkley arrived at a crossroad when his wife Jeri and their four children decided to move to Utah to receive support they needed from family. Merkley said, “I was given the permission to come with them, provided I would make some big-time changes to my life approach.” When Merkley and his family arrived in Utah, it took him a while to find himself again. On a request from his concerned mother, Merkley met with Bob Patterson, the dean of the College of Education at BYU. After a long conversation, Patterson exclaimed, “When you want to do something useful with your life, give me a call!”
Patterson wanted Merkley to come work for the College of Education. Merkley was hesitant because he did not want to be involved with the education system. However, after some persuasion, Patterson suggested that Merkley give it two years—that was 25 years ago! Merkley said he learned quickly that, “this profession is populated by a group of strong and powerful individuals who love their fellow men.”
Merkley finished by telling graduates, “It is through service, real heartfelt self-sacrificing service, that we can experience real joy in our lives and truly love our fellow men . . . and in loving your fellow men, you are loving the Lord, and that will be enough.”
Although the McKay School didn’t physically throw its hat in the air with the graduates, it tips its hat to them for receiving an education. There is no telling what McKay School graduates will accomplish after their time at BYU. They are well prepared to succeed in life by following the McKay School mission, “We strive to model the attributes of Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, as we prepare professionals who educate with an eternal perspective.”
Writer: Ashley Young
Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562