Posts Tagged 'Class of 2019'

Wise Words From Our 2019 Commencement Speaker: Dr. Phillip Ertl

On May 19, 2019, the College of Education and all of Marquette University celebrated the graduating Class of 2019. At our college ceremony, we were inspired by the words of Dr. Phillip Ertl, Superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District. We are grateful for his wisdom and would like to share his speech with you, our readers!

0011_optimizedCongratulations to the Marquette College of Education graduates from the class of 2019 – and congratulations to all the family and friends of the graduates as I know nobody does this alone, and you have all had an impact on these graduates.

I would like to thank Dean Henk and the rest of the College of Education at Marquette University. I am incredibly honored to be here with you today on the most exciting day of the year for any educational institution–graduation day. We all know commencement means “a beginning or a start.” But of what? That is up to each of you and THAT is what makes graduation so exciting.

For me, being able to see what the students of the Wauwatosa School District do in the years after graduation is very gratifying–knowing that in some way we have had an impact. This year’s graduation has an extra special meaning for me- not only is my oldest son graduating from Wauwatosa West High School, but his time in Tosa schools also coincides with my time as Superintendent of the Wauwatosa School District. So, I guess I am the only one the class of 2019 can blame if things do not go well for them!

I have had the good fortune to be in education for over 30 years with 19 of those as a superintendent of schools. My path was certainly not linear. I struggled as a student and, as many that have a similar story, was not encouraged to attend college by some staff in my school that I think should have been doing that. My real motivation for going to college was to play football. It was not until a couple years into my college experience that something clicked–I really wanted to become a teacher. After graduating from UW Lacrosse, I left for Texas for my first teaching and coaching position and loved it. I had some incredible mentors, in particular Tommy Rhea, my principal. He encouraged me to follow my dreams. I guess my dreams took me back to Wisconsin after a year, and I landed in Tomah where I also had the opportunity to work with some top-notch administrators who encouraged me to get my Master’s Degree in educational administration. After completing that degree, I thought I would give my new license a try and applied for two jobs. I interviewed and was offered an associate principal (AP) position in Menasha. I spent one year as an AP and was promoted to the middle school principal position the following year. My superintendent, Bill Decker, saw something in me that I did not. He encouraged me to pursue my doctorate, something that honestly never crossed my mind until I understood that he really believed in me.

Principals and teachers that I have worked with over my time in education have had such a profound impact on me–I could talk about each of them, but I am sure you would like to get out of here today at some point–but I think you get the jist, I had a lot of great mentors and I think it is important for all of us to serve as mentors so that others have the same stories. There are a few challenges we face in education–funding, public perception, declining numbers entering the teacher workforce, testing accountability, increasing demands on our time and energy, and mental health issues. One could argue that most of these are longstanding challenges we have faced for many years in some way, shape or form.

However, mental health concerns have become one of the most prevalent. More and more students are coming to school with significant mental health challenges, that if not addressed, will stand in their way of learning and succeeding. Everything is not known why more and more students are facing those challenges but what we do know is that we must find new and innovative ways to address those needs. I am thrilled to hear that there are a number of graduates here today in clinical mental health and counseling. We need more of you working with and supporting our students. But…with all the challenges in education there are a few things that I have learned that have made a difference in my career to help me overcome those challenges and others.

First: we are in a relationship business. We don’t make widgets or ball bearings—we create relationships that lead to greater learning. Each and every person involved in education is creating relationships every single day–multiple times a day. I believe the most important relationship is the one between teacher and student. The ability to be a great teacher is based on the ability to develop and sustain positive relationships with students. To have the type of impact that we want with students we need to engage with students on many different levels (mentor, expert and friend). The old saying that “students really do not care what you know until they know that you care” is so true. Other relationships in the educational arena are critical as well. Principal leadership matters, and that leadership can only be developed through relationships with many constituencies including staff, students, parents, and the community. Find me a great principal, and I assure you their stakeholders will talk about the relationships they have with that principal. School Boards need to gain the trust of the community and have to have trust in the superintendent. Those relationships need to be healthy for a school district to thrive. There is a reason we have moved to a more collaborative model in education– it is a critical skill that all students need before they leave our doors, and in life–and we must be committed to making sure everyone understands, supports and values strong relationships to help realize that goal.

Next: every interaction will have an impact — you have to believe that! We have all been in a meeting or class or professional development activity where we are asked to think of someone that has had a great impact on our lives. Often times the people we think about never knew that they made a difference in our lives. I, personally, have gone out of my way to make sure that those people in my life, know it. For each of them it was things they said or did that they did not think were a big deal–but really did have a profound impact on me. They were simple interactions with people I looked up to and trusted. I try to think of that when I talk with students—as well as colleagues, parents and community members. You never really know what people take away from each and every conversation or interaction—- I always want it to be something positive.

Treat people with compassion and respect as it will come back to you — In 1992 when I was teaching in Tomah, I also served the school as the head football coach. We had great student athletes that I was able to get to know and work with. I had this one young man that was our starting right tackle. He was also a hockey player, really good student and a great overall kid. That student, Dr. Eric Jessup-Anger, is now my School Board President in Wauwatosa! Of course my first question to him when he came on the Board was “did I ever make you run or yell at you too much–or is that why you wanted to be on the Board?” I really do believe that what goes around comes around with how we treat people. I think that holds MOST true with how we treat students. If we don’t show them respect–those relationships that I talked about earlier will never be as good as we would like.

Be the voice for others – The focus on equity in schools may be one of the most important shifts to ever occur—and one of the most difficult to implement. Everyone says they believe all children can learn but very few schools have been able to raise expectations for ALL students and meet those expectations. Our previous school structure was not set up for all students to be successful, it really was for “many” to be successful. We must raise expectations for all students and do everything humanly possible to ensure they meet those them. We have to change societal beliefs, challenge our own biases, and push like we never have before. It is not easy work, it is not quick work, but it is work that we need to do to be successful. There are too many students that do not have a voice in their education and we need to be that voice for them by believing in them, having high expectations and helping them meet their goals. I am proud to say it is the overriding focus of all our work in the Wauwatosa School District- and it is making a difference.

Know your “why” – We really need a strong conviction and understanding of why we are in this business. For some folks, their why is to make a difference in the world or simply that they love kids. I still have never gone to a day of work: I am still going to school. I love approaching every day with the opportunity to make a difference and that is my why. In education we are tasked with selling the why to everyone. Students say “why do I need to learn algebra?” Teachers will say “why do we need to change the reading curriculum?”, school boards say, “why should be adopt this policy?”, community members will say “why should we pay this amount of taxes?” We spend our days talking about the why so we better be pretty clear on what our “why” is and what our school communities’ is.

Failure is critical for success – This is a statement I make in every interview and ask for a response. Most of the success I have had in life is because of learning from mistakes. We must encourage students to be risk-takers and not be afraid of failure. “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I am not big on living by quotes, but this is one that I believe is important for living with a growth mindset. Too many students come to us without the willingness to take risks or the ability to deal with adversity, and we have an obligation to teach them.

Celebrate successes – People that go into education generally are humble and want to serve others. Often what goes along with that is an unwillingness to talk about accomplishments. We need to take every opportunity we can to celebrate the great things going on in our schools, whether it is an individual accomplishment of a student, a group of students accomplishing something they never thought they could, a team winning a competition that was unexpected, a whole school reaching a milestone, or a whole district implementing a new policy well. We need to make sure everyone knows the great things happening in our schools. Simple emails to parents about the good things their children are doing may be the most effective communication you make!

Focus on controlling what you can control – There are so many things that we deal with that are out of our control. As I get further along in my career, I understand that there are more things we may not have control over, but we still can impact. There are a lot of state statutes that impact what we do on a daily basis, from minutes of instruction, school start dates, standards, standardized testing, how much money we have to use in schools, as well as what subjects must be taught. I have learned even some of THOSE have flexibility in them! More importantly I think we need to understand that we don’t control who the kids are in our classes – with all the intelligences, attitudes, backgrounds, and beliefs that come with them. We need to meet them where they are and take them to greater heights. All parents send their children to us hoping and expecting us to give them our best. And we owe it to the parents to do just that.

I don’t often take the opportunity to reflect on my career as I still have a long time left, but taking this opportunity to do so has reminded me of how fortunate I have been to be around some great students, teachers, administrators and school supporters – and even better people. I hope all of you have the same experiences as you go through your career.

So, as you leave here today, I challenge you to do one thing: to be THAT person, that person that makes a difference for each and every student —every day. YOU may not know you were that person—but they certainly will!!

Congratulations again and best of luck to you in the future! And if that future involves applying for a job in the Wauwatosa School District, give me a call or shoot me an email to remind me that we met today!

Thank you.

An Open Letter to the Class of 2019

1024px-Marquette_University_Seal.svgBy Aubrey Murtha – What’s up, new, anxious, smiley Golden Eagles?

Welcome to Marquette, your home for the next four years (or maybe five or maybe six?). Aren’t you so excited? Every year, I use my position as a blogger for The Marquette Educator to congratulate you new kids on the block for all of your successes. As they say in the novel/movie “The Help”: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” and we as a Marquette community are beyond blessed to have you join us.  You bring your diverse talents, backgrounds, cultures and languages to our campus, and I am going to preemptively thank you for making our campus a more colorful place to learn, live, and grow.

Forgive me in advance for this is a long letter. You’ve probably heard 1,000 times the standard “get involved” and “study hard” comments from older friends, siblings, and parents. Today, I thought I’d share a few more unconventional suggestions that may help you to make the most of this exciting transition in your life—some more serious than others, but all helpful, I hope.

Make friends with your professors.
This isn’t high school anymore. Instead of thinking of your professor as a disciplinarian who is in charge of the classroom, I urge you to treat your relationship with him or her as if you were scholarly partners. Sure, they know much more than you, but please be assured that you have tremendous insights to share. Learning at its finest does not involve strictly one-sided lectures or the mindless copying of notes. Get to know your professor, pick his or her brain whenever possible, and establish some sort of working relationship with him or her. You may find that they will play instrumental roles in helping you explore your academic and professional passions and point you down unexpected and deeply fulfilling paths.

If you are lost, ask. The whole first week of freshman year, I asked older students to tell me where certain academic buildings were. I asked how the meal plan worked. I asked how to purchase basketball tickets. I asked how to best complete certain assignments. Ask, ask, and ask. We will help you, I promise. No question is dumb. If you’re nervous to ask, find me. I will never laugh at you because I was that student and to a certain extent, still am.

Go on dates.
If she is cute and you like the way she raises her hand in your philosophy class, talk to her. If his laugh is contagious, and he offers to help you with your finite assignment, take him up on it. You’ve heard that dating is a lost art, and based on my college experiences thus far, I’d agree. Hanging out doesn’t mean you’re in love, nor does it obligate you to a second date, but you could miss out on something sort of special if you avoid a date altogether. Heck, my brother just got married two months ago to the very girl he asked out during October of his freshman year. Six years later and they tied the knot. Crazy stuff can happen.

Not everyone is doing it.
Sabrina Bong Bartels included this in her article entitled, “Seven (More) Truths Every Middle Schooler Should Hear,” but it applies to MU students as well. Not everyone is drinking or doing drugs. Not everyone is having sex. Not everyone is skipping church, cheating on assignments or not doing the course readings. Never assume that everyone is doing it, and don’t use this claim as an excuse to justify behaving poorly, neglecting your responsibilities, or taking advantage of another person. “Mom, everyone is doing it!” No, this is a bad excuse, and she’ll see right through you.

Don’t let common MU stereotypes impact the way you experience your first year residence hall.
Sure, McCormick is a fun place to live, but it is not the ONLY fun place to live. Yes, O’Donnell is indeed all boys. But that does not mean that you will ONLY be able to associate yourself with MU men. I hope you all are excited about your housing placements, but if you are not, know that your dorm will most likely far exceed your expectations. You might have heard from current or former Marquette students that Abbottsford is THE place to live, or Straz is THE finest on campus. Chances are, that is where those people lived their freshman year, and they grew to love it so much that they’d recommend it to anyone. Have an open mind about your housing assignment, get to know your roommate and your floor, and then form opinions about your dorm.

Follow your gut instinct.
If a situation feels unsafe, it probably is. If you feel a sudden urge to join Slam Poetry Club, capitalize on that urge. If something somebody says to another student immediately rubs you the wrong way, speak up.   

Go to the basketball games (and/or other MU sporting events).
I can’t believe I even have to say this, but I knew many freshmen who skipped out on Marquette basketball. Why? You can make time to attend a game every once in a while! It is a phenomenal bonding experience, a great way to make new friends, and a wonderful excuse to spend your pay check on some spirit wear. It’s something like $99.00 for 16 games and a T-shirt! That’s an incredible deal, guys.

You aren’t above anyone here.
It’s a little harsh, I know. I’m going to speak from personal experience. I don’t want you all to think I’m arrogant or whatever, but I was a dynamite student in high school. I was also incredibly involved—like way too involved. I applied for a scholarship for MU my senior year of high school and was honestly devastated when I didn’t even get an interview. I thought I deserved an interview. That was my first wake up call. I am not better than anyone at MU, and neither are you. I might be a good student (true), but I stink at freeway driving (very, painfully true). You might be incredibly generous with your time and talents, but you struggle with making friends. We all have our skills. You aren’t the best at everything, but you are most definitely the best at something.

Don’t waste money.
Do you really need that psychedelic lava lamp for your dorm room? Okay, yes, obviously you do. That was a terrible example. I’ll try again: Do you really need that Michael Kors watch? No. Don’t waste your money. Pick and choose, and spend wisely. You’ll probably have some kind of debt after college, and you’re going to need to start saving. Money doesn’t grow on trees—unless you have figured out how to cultivate a money tree. If you have, please shoot me an e-mail after you finish reading this.   

Expand your friendship horizons.
This is the most cliché, but also arguably one of the most important. If you are coming to MU with your best friend and living with said best friend, you guys both need to find ways to meet people on your own. I came from a high school that sent 20 kids to MU my freshman year. One of those 20 is my best friend of 16 years. We chose not to live together freshman year—we never even discussed it as an option—and we ended up in two different residence halls. This was a great decision. We are still best friends, and now we share friends. Expand your social horizons. It’s a good idea, and it’ll help you establish other lifelong friendships.

Wow, that was long. I think I have carpal tunnel. I have nothing else to say besides welcome to Marquette University. You are in good hands, and good luck as you begin this amazing journey.  We are all here for you.

I can’t wait to meet you all this week.

Much love,


What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter