Posts Tagged 'Commencement'

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.

Take Action: What it Means to Be the Difference

MeghanB_CommencementNearly 500 Marquette University graduates were recognized at Marquette University’s Mid-Year Commencement on Sunday, Dec. 16, at the U.S. Cellular Arena.

The program included a keynote address by Dr. Lisa Hanson, associate professor of nursing, remarks from Marquette President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., and featured student speaker Meghan Bachtel, a December Graduate from the College of Education.

Meghan’s message did not fall on deaf ears — in a time when the nation is struggling to make sense of tragedy, and educators everywhere are working tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of our nation’s children — she spoke to every one of us, urging us to take action.


Faculty and administrators, family and friends, my fellow graduates and I thank you for being here today. Without your help and support, we would not be walking across this stage, and we are thrilled that you are here to celebrate with us the culmination of our college experience.

As a French major, I really connected with the words of famed French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who once said, pardon my French: “L’homme n’est pointfait pour méditer, mais pour agir or humanity was not only created to ponder, but rather to act.

While at Marquette, we’ve all been encouraged to think critically and challenge our own worldviews. This is particularly poignant considering the unique Marquette experience of studying at a Jesuit university in the middle of such a diverse city as Milwaukee.  Instead of trying to shield us from the problems that are inherent within such a large and diverse city, Marquette encourages us to interact with and discover different worldviews in a real and impactful way.

One such example occurred my freshman year. I started out my undergraduate career as a Theatre Arts and French double major, but I found myself gravitating to the One On One Mentoring program through the YMCA. I lived in Straz Tower, and there was a group of middle-schoolers who came to a large meeting room in the basement every Monday afternoon to improve their reading and math skills. It was a fairly straightforward program with lesson plans designed to work on certain skills, but the relationship I developed with my mentee, Ciara, has forever changed both of our lives.

I remember when I first met her and she told me that her life’s ambition was to take care of the children that she would inevitably have before she was ready. She had several family members that were teenaged mothers, so she had already accepted that fate for herself at age 11. Through our three years of working together, I helped her to set the bar a little higher for herself. She also brought out more humility and honesty in me. Our experiences together made me realize how much I wanted and needed to be a teacher so that I could continue reaching out and helping others.

I have remembered those experiences throughout my student teaching, especially if I’ve seen any of my students being put down or silenced. I’d like all of you to take a moment and think about a time in your life where you felt that your voice went unheard. Were you ever bullied, pressured, threatened or somehow otherwise convinced to be silent, even when it hurt more not to speak?

I know I’ve experienced this in my life, and I have found that there is no feeling quite as daunting as the knowledge that you have a voice, but are unable to use that voice.

At Marquette, we have been encouraged to use our strengths to help give voices to those less fortunate than us through programs such as Hunger Clean-Up, Midnight Run, Mardi Gras, MAP, and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, to name a few. As Marquette Alumni, we need to continue using the voices and resources available to us to affect positive change in others’ lives. We are all leaders in our own fields coming from an academic institution such as ours, and it is because of our excellence that we have been called to serve.

A twenty-first century person of action looks a lot different than what an eighteenth-century Rousseau could even dream of. The world is becoming smaller and smaller through the Internet and other technology, which drives home the ever-growing importance of global awareness. The information age in which we live makes it pretty easy to sit back and ponder the implications of the many issues that face today’s society. Rousseau asks us to move beyond that pondering, and as Marquette graduates, I am fully confident in our abilities to act for the betterment of our world.

As a soon-to-be alumna from the College of Education, I will use my working knowledge of the world and our place in it to increase awareness amongst our youth, who, after all, will be America’s future movers and shakers. I will not be able to succeed in this task without the engineers who will have designed and built the computers and buildings necessary for my classes to even take place. They will, in turn, need the help of the future doctors and nurses whenever they become ill. No matter what college from which we graduate, or which career path we ultimately take, we all will rely on and benefit from the gifts and accomplishments of our fellow graduates.

As individuals, our potential to bring about global consciousness and affect change is limited. But together, over these past four years, we have grown to be apart of the Marquette family, which spans from the East Coast to the West Coast, and across the globe. As a part of that Marquette family, we can make a meaningful difference in our world.


Meghan Bachtel is currently student teaching at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, where she will continue to teach in a substitute role for the spring semester.  Next fall she will return to the high school she attended in Akron, OH where she will be employed as a full-time French teacher.  Of special note, Meghan is the first student with an education major to be chosen as commencement speaker since we became the College of Education in 2008.  

Spring Commencement 2010 Memories

The weeks leading up to the University and College of Education commencement ceremonies were an absolute whirlwind.  I can’t ever remember a spring semester so utterly filled with things to do.  But now at long last the relentless grind is over, and the marathon of activity feels like a hazy blur that rightly came to a glorious and extremely satisfying conclusion.    

I’ll have wonderful memories of the two commencements, because they were special in so many respects.  For instance, what has been officially called a “Graduation Recognition Ceremony” for our academic unit has traditionally taken place the day before the University event.  However, this year marked, historically, our first full and formally labeled College of Education Commencement, and it occurred after the University celebration.  

It’s the People Who Matter Most

Most importantly, though, what makes any graduation special is the full range of people honored by the event

Of course, commencement belongs first and foremost to the graduates.   They’ve worked very hard to achieve the important life milestone of a either a Baccalaureate, Master’s or Doctoral degree.   I congratulate the more than 2000 Marquette students who earned their diplomas this spring.  

But commencement is also very much about the families and significant others who have contributed to the success of our graduates.   The accomplishment of a degree rarely occurs without substantial support from loved ones whose sacrifices made it possible.  I salute them as well. 

And I certainly want to pay tribute to our faculty, tireless student advocates who care deeply about providing their protégés with the utmost opportunity for professional, personal, ethical, and spiritual growth.

Finally, I’d be genuinely remiss if I did not applaud the efforts of our academic and professional administrators and staff in the College of Education.  Frankly, they make EVERYTHING else the rest of us do possible.  WIthout them, there would be no hope for efficiency and effectiveness.  Thank you — Tina, Carol, Susan, Coreen, Lori, Melissa, Pat, Becky,and Demetrice! 

Some Indelible Memories

Before I say goodbye to this semester, I want to highlight the memories of this commencement weekend that most stood out for me, so here goes:   Continue reading ‘Spring Commencement 2010 Memories’

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