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Roots and Wings

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In my twenty years of working in public higher education, I have attended countless graduation and presidential inauguration ceremonies. With these events have come scores of speeches, presentations, and tributes -- some of which have been incredibly inspiring and memorable. None I have ever heard, however, was as good or moving as the one recently delivered at Tennessee State University by its new president.

Tennessee State is a historically black institution with a proud tradition and rich history and its eighth president, Glenda Baskin Glover, is a remarkable woman with sterling credentials. She is only one of two African American women in the country to have this list of credentials: CPA, Ph.D., and J.D. But in addition to these stellar bona fides, she is a visionary leader who will undoubtedly do great things at her alma mater, Tennessee State. She is, by the way, the first female alumna to be president of TSU.

President Glover began her remarks talking about "roots and wings." Acknowledging her parents and her family's commitment to giving her an appreciation for the past and a love of her own ancestry (her roots), she also attributed to them an ability to instill in her a belief that she could accomplish anything through hard work and determination (her wings). It was this combination of roots and wings which has allowed her to achieve what she has. In turn, she has endeavored to instill in her students throughout her own career in higher education and appreciation for the past while living in the present with a belief that anything is possible.

I came away incredibly impressed with Dr. Glover and this simple, yet profound, philosophy. Far too often we are consumed in higher education with numbers and cuts to our budgets and other issues and crises that we may lose sight of why we even exist. Our principal and fundamental responsibility is to our students. Full stop.

Without students, none of us would have employment or would enjoy the privilege of working each and every day on campuses surrounded by committed staff and accomplished faculty while doing something we love to do. And to quote President Glover, "Roots and wings are the greatest gift a university can give its students."

Dr. Glover's soaring speech last Friday reminded me of what an incredibly powerful tool education is in the lives of each and every individual. It is, truly, the great equalizer. It has -- more than any other thing in today's world -- the ability to transform lives, impact generations, and provide solutions to the seemingly intractable problems we face today.

Roots and wings -- these three words capture the inherent power of education to positively impact the lives of each of us.