Inspirational Commencement Speeches: Ellen DeGeneres

    Marilyn Gardner Milton - Inspirational Commencement Speeches - Elle DeGeneres

    A few weeks ago, I came across a list of the greatest graduation speeches of all time. They were inspiring and made me reflect. Last month, I wrote about Joyce DiDonato’s speech at Juilliard’s 2014 commencement ceremony. This month, I’m writing about Tulane’s 2009 commencement speech by Ellen DeGeneres.

    When Ellen DeGeneres graduated high school, she didn’t attend college like many of her other classmates. Instead, she began working odd jobs such as shucking oysters, bartending, painting houses, and selling vacuum cleaners. She didn’t know what she wanted to do and didn’t have a clear plan.

    When she was 19, a tragedy struck her life. She was living in a poor, basement apartment with barely any belongings to call her own. Her mattress laid on the floor and the place was flea-infested. One day she was driving down the road, she passed a horrific car accident. Later that night she found out it was her partner that was in the crash and she had passed away.

    She didn’t understand why this was happening to her, so she began to do some soul-searching. She thought, wouldn’t it be nice if she could just pick up the phone and ask God why? Instead, she decided to start writing. She wrote what her phone call with God would be like if she was able to give him a ring. Little did she know, this is what would become her big break. A few years later, she was on the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show performing this one-sided phone call.

    After a few years in the industry, she came out to the public, not for any political reasons but to free herself from the heaviness of living in shame and hiding her secret in fear of displeasing others. Through this, she experienced another incredibly difficult hardship. She lost her career, became isolated from friends and family, and wasn’t able to secure any job offers. During this challenging time, she was receiving letters from people, kids, who were ready to commit suicide because of who they loved, and it was Ellen’s bravery that had stopped them. One of the hardest times in her life showed her that she had a purpose on this earth.

    In hindsight, Ellen wouldn’t change a thing that happened to her. She had to lose everything to make her realize what was truly the most important thing in life: being true to yourself. She no longer lives in fear and doesn’t carry any burdens of hiding secrets.

    When she was young, she thought success meant becoming rich and famous, but she realized that the image of success changes as your grow. She sees success now as living your life with integrity, being an honest and compassionate human being, and finding a way to contribute to the world around you.


    Millennials are Impacting Higher Education

    Millennials are Impacting Higher Education - Marilyn Gardner Milton1Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have grown up in the era of technology. With the internet always at their fingertips, it’s no wonder they have adapted to learning differently than the generation that came before them. Educational institutions are beginning to take note of this however they are not adjusting quickly enough. Generation Z is only just around the corner from entering into higher education, and they will be even more plugged-in than the Millennials. So what are the Millennials doing to change higher education and what do these educational institutions need to do to adjust for the future?

    Increase in the Popularity of Master’s Degrees

    Millennials are not satisfied with just an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s degree anymore. With limited job opportunities awaiting these [people] when they finish their undergrad, many are opting to stay in school to complete a Master’s program before entering the real world.

    According to Pew Research Center, professionals with a Master’s degree are earning 23% more today than their counterparts back in 1984. In comparison, those who only hold a Bachelor’s degree have seen an increase of just less than 13%. Bottom line: if a Millennial has their goals set on earning more money in their career, they are going to be looking for a Master’s program.

    A Comfort in Online Learning

    Some may argue that today’s youngsters know more about the internet than we do. With that, there is no surprise that they find learning online to be comfortable and natural. Roughly 6.7 million students are taking at least one online class during their time in college. And that doesn’t account for all the classes they’re taking that use online portals such as Blackboard to submit work, collaborate with classmates, and even complete quizzes or exams. Millennials have helped build this switch from learning in the traditional classroom setting to online, and Generation Z will demand it.

    Flipped Classroom

    Getting Millennials to participate in the traditional classroom setting can be difficult. The flipped classroom allows the student to become the teacher, encouraging high involvement and collaboration with their classmates. According to a study performed by NYU, the retention rate of students soared to 90% when they were put in a teaching role. The flipped classroom puts students in control of their educational journey and provides a more hands-on learning perspective.


    Join the President’s Forum: “Unshackling Innovation: Regulation vs. Innovation” on November 18, 2015 Washington, D.C.

    Hosted by The Presidents’ Forum and United States Distance Learning Association,  Dr. Marilyn Gardner is working with Excelsior College, USDLA, as well as national educators and policy makers to plan the 12TH Annual Meeting of the Presidents’ Forum,  “Unshackling Innovation: Regulation vs. Innovation.”

    The Forum is being held: 

    November 18, 2015 (Wednesday) 

    8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. 

    U.S. Chamber of Commerce | Hall of Flags 

    1615 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20062

    Attendees can find the preliminary program at:


    Would you like to register?  You can do so at: http://forum.wp.excelsior.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2015/07/2015-Presidents-Forum-Registration-Form080615.pdf 

    Forum attendees will join national experts who are influencing policies in the academic and distance education arena to examine and discuss the evolving promise and policy issues associated with technology-mediated learning. Connect and interact with colleagues, providers, and technology academicians and business professionals who are grappling with defining the next steps to safeguard the institutional and academic integrity of online learning providers while redoubling efforts to reach underserved and under skilled learners.

    The Presidents’ Forum, established in 2004, is a collaboration of accredited, national, adult-serving institutions and programs which have embraced the power and potential of online education. The Mission of the Presidents’ Forum is to advance the recognition of innovative practice and excellence in online learning. This is accomplished by providing a venue for leaders in higher education and stakeholders to share their knowledge and learn from others’ best practices. You can find more information at http://www.presidentsforum.org/

    The United States Distance Learning Association was founded on the premise of creating a powerful alliance to meet the burgeoning education and training needs of learning communities via new concepts of the fusion of communication technologies with learning in broad multidiscipline applications.

    The learning communities that USDLA addresses are: pre K-12, higher education, continuing education, corporate training, military and government training, home schooling and telemedicine. In addition USDLA is also focused on national and international technology based Distance Learning

    USDLA through its mission of supporting the development and application of distance learning focuses on all legislation impacting the Distance learning community and its varied constituencies. You can find more information on USDLA at www.usdla.org.


    Education is the Next Political Battle

    The political atmosphere in our country is growing more tense and divided with each passing day. Every topic ranging from gay marriage to taxes to infrastructure funding is sent through the partisan grinder with cooperation and compromise becoming harder and harder to find as the Right and Left simply dig in their heels and refuse to make nice, even at the expense of the government (as in shutting it down for a failed cause) and the American people who expect our law-makers to actually get along and work together. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of nation-wide gay marriage, it seems as though education is the next great political battle that is going to tear our nation apart (other than taxes, foreign policy, the climate, and literally everything else).

    Starting in July, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are going to begin looking at the No Child Left Behind law and whether it should be rewritten or not. The law was actually meant to be reviews months ago but it was pulled amid conservative objections a few months ago. Now, in an attempt to calm conservatives and other outside groups that have targeted the bill, the House leaders will allow voting on the bill as well as a number of amendments that were previously dismissed. One such amendment would allow schools to keep federal money while rejecting the regulations that come along with it.

    All of this is gearing up to be another massive battle between Democrats and Republicans in congress. While it’s very likely that it won’t end up getting as divisive as the Affordable Care Act or gay marriage, there’s no denying that both sides are looking to get what they want out of this agreement. The measure is already looking at sparse democratic support (due to an overwhelming dislike of the law and the belief that it is crippling our educational system) and many republicans aren’t all that happy about it either, due to the belief that it would increase federal influence in the education system. Either way, it seems as though there is going to be some intense arguing about the law and whether it should continue; and this isn’t even taking the Common Core into account.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.


    Children Return to School in Nepal

    The massive earthquakes in Nepal happened about 5 weeks ago, killing over 8,600 people and devastating the mountainous country. Nepal is still recovering and in need of massive amounts of aid from countries around the world, aid which is being provided. Even though the country is still reeling and trying to rebuild both infrastructure and the shattered lives of its citizens, life must go on and people must continue to rebuild and move forward. There is no clearer example of this desire to move forward and improve than that of Nepalese children finally going back to school all over the country. Even though there are still schools that need to be rebuilt, the fact that children are beginning to learn and be educated means that Nepal is now starting to look towards the future again.

    Over 32,000 classrooms and educational facilities were destroyed in Nepal during the earthquake. With the sheer amount of destruction the country sustained, rebuilding schools wasn’t a priority; hospitals, roads, and other emergency facilities were much higher on the list. The Nepalese children that are finally returning to school are going to be learning in tents and makeshift cottages and shacks until their proper schools are rebuilt (who knows how long this might take). However, even though the actual facilities are rough, an education minister in the Nepalese government made the point that the opening of schools, no matter how ramshackle they may be, is a sign that life is slowly returning to normal.

    The government and various aid organizations have built 137 temporary learning facilities for over 14,000 children across the country. Aid workers are saying that a total of 4,500 education centers are estimated to be needed to accommodate students who have been forced to move by the earthquakes; nearly a million have been severely affected by the quakes. The opening of these temporary schools is important for a variety of reasons. The first is that it helps prevent against a lost generation of children who are poorly educated and scarred from the quakes; this would’ve been terrible for Nepal’s future. It also allows the children to have a safe space that will take their minds off the stress that the quakes and being displaced has caused. School allows children to be children and at this point in time, that’s what the Nepalese children need.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.


    There’s a Global 100 Year Education Gap

    As all parts of the world continues to advance and modernize, albeit at different speeds, the importance of education is becoming stronger and stronger. This emphasis on education isn’t just limited to modern countries with first world utilities either; third world countries with booming economies and rapid growth are possibly even more in need of educated people to take control of these new economies and guide them towards financial success. While primary education is quickly on the rise in developing countries (due to it being that much more accessible to people than it once was), the education gap really kicks off when it comes to both the levels of individual attainment as well as simply how many years of schooling people have. marilyn gardner milton, marilyn gardner, milton ma, massachusetts, education gap

    Unfortunately, as it stands, most developing countries have reached education and achievement levels that the west had reached around 100 years ago. If the current attitude towards global education continues on the path that it’s currently going down, this gap will never decrease and the world will constantly be faced with differing levels of education in different countries. While this doesn’t necessarily sound like the worst thing in the world, countries are becoming more and more interconnected as technology continues to advance and put everyone in closer and closer contact with each other. This means that this education gap might very well cause problems as economies become more and more reliant and involved with these developing countries; having a lack of highly educated and trained people could put strain on delicate economic ties.

    So how can this massive problem be tackled? The first thing that needs to happen is a global shift in attitudes towards education. While this is already beginning to happen, many people around the world get distracted from their educations by family or societal pressure that can spring from both cultural and economic sources. The ability to take time away from one’s family and livelihood is necessary to achieve any sort of educational standard and so more emphasis needs to be placed on programs the promote and reward educational attainment and make it possible for people to take time away from their jobs so they can get educated. While this is easier said than done and only a start to addressing the century-long education gap, it’s still a start. Even a marathon can be completed with baby steps, you just need to get started.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.


    Would Better Education Fix Income Inequality?

    Income inequality has quickly become one of the key talking points when it comes to the American economy and society as a whole. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has been getting larger and larger every year at an accelerating rate and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon. While there are many theories as to how to stop this from continuing (after all, it’s leading to the death of the middle class), one of the most popular theories is that increasing the quality of education will lower the gap and lead to a wealthier and happier society.marilyn gardner milton, education inequality

    A recent study by the Brookings Institution has actually shown that while better education wouldn’t help with income inequality, it would help with our country’s overall economy. The study shows that while better education wouldn’t help so much when it comes to tackling income inequality itself, it would help the financial and economic situations of the poor due to the fact that they’d have more money and a stronger economy would allow their money to go farther. That being said, it should be known that increasing education will do nothing to bring down the wages at the top or the difference in money that the 1% have when compared to the rest of the country.

    When the researchers simulated what would happen if a bachelors degree was awarded to someone who previously didn’t have one, they found what would seem to be obvious. Their chances of getting hired and boosting their current earnings would rise. The study ended up showing that if the rate of achievement in bachelor degrees was increased by only 10%, the reductions in median wages that occurred between 1979-2013 would basically be wiped clean and the economy as a whole would improve. While this is obviously much easier said than done, increasing the educational level and attainment in our country is clearly the first step towards improving our economy. Then we can focus on narrowing the wage gap.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.


    White House Announces “Let Girls Learn” Initiative

    Education levels vary around the world and heavily depend on both the wealth of a country as well as its cultures and traditions. Some cultures place a higher emphasis on the education of their children while others feel as though children should stay and work and help the family. However, even in the cultures that value education, it is frequently seen that the education of women and girls takes a much lower precedence than the education of men and boys. While this isn’t true of all societies and all countries, there is no denying the fact that women and young girls have a much harder time finding education in many parts of the world.marilyn_gardner_milton_female_education

    Why is this important? Well aside from the obvious fact that everyone deserves education, multiple sources have claimed multiple times that the education of women should be seen as much more important than it currently is. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agrees that the educating of women isn’t only good for them, but for their countries as well. Human intelligence is split 50/50; women are just as smart as men (regardless of what tradition might say) and by keeping women uneducated, you’re literally halving the intellectual resources of your country. It’s time for these misguided and antiquated ideas of the past to disappear once and for all!

    It seems as though the White House is in strong agreement with these sentiments. The Obama administration has announced a new world-wide education initiative called “Let Girls Learn” that focuses on increasing educational access to women and young girls all across the world. With over 60 million girls, of which half are still adolescents, unable to access education, the initiative has its work cut out for it. Michelle Obama is visiting Japan and Cambodia to begin promoting the plan and that’s just the beginning. The First Lady’s office will work in coordination with the Peace Corps to focus on community-lead and supported plans that will increase the number of girls and women in school as well as helping to keep them in school. While the US does much to support female education programs abroad, this is the first time that all the efforts are going to be coordinated under a single strategy. This program is now going to be a linchpin of foreign policy and President Obama has said that if any country wants to partner with the US, they need to work on increasing the number of girls in school.

    If you’d like to learn more, the link is here.


    22 States Don’t Require Measles Vaccinations for Colleges

    Measles are back. While this might not be news to people who regularly spend time on the internet, the once eradicated disease is making a forceful comeback due to parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated against the disease (as well as a host of other diseases) thanks to debunked misinformation about vaccines causing autism. While measles might not be an issue for those who are vaccinated (obviously) or unvaccinated but older and healthy, it can actually cause death and other complications in young children who haven’t been vaccinated due to age or health reasons as well as in people with compromised immune systems. The main reason to get vaccinated for diseases like the measles is to prevent any occurrences from happening, regardless of how deadly the diseases might be.vaccine

    Measles is an incredibly infectious disease and can be spread even before symptoms show up. Did you know that 22 states allow students to go to colleges without any sort of vaccine? This is becoming a huge issue now that people are actively catching and spreading measles, especially in California. The news of measles first broke in Disneyland and now it seems to have continued to spread. Students at three California campuses — Moorepark College, California State University at Channel Islands, and California State University at Long Beach — have caught measles and are now included in the 90 people who have caught it in California so far. This is a worrisome development in the fight against a disease that was once eradicated in the United States and proof that anti-vaxers, those who are against vaccines, are actively threatening the health of our society.

    Now California is fighting back by requiring that anyone who wants to go to college in the state must be up to date on their vaccines and fully vaccinated against all of the standard diseases. The program would begin in 2017 and even that is already drawing criticism from scientists and health professionals who believe that it should’ve already been implemented. Hopefully this anti-vaccine movement is just a phase and that it will die out after parents realize that they’re being selfish by refusing to vaccinate their children; that it puts the rest of society in harms way.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.


    Fixing Education Starts in the States, Not Washington

    There is no denying that the education system of the United States of America has been failing more and more as we continue to slide in basically every educational ranking on a global level. As our children continue to suffer and not reach their true potentials, politicians have been arguing and trying to figure out ways to fix the issue. One of the attempts to combat our slow decline in educational standards was the No Child Left Behind policy that has failed in almost every aspect and which both sides of the political spectrum are looking forward to revise in 2015. However the issue with our system isn’t a federal one, it begins at a state level and repairs should start there.

    While the once-proposed solution to our educational woes was focusing on increasing budgets and reducing the average class size, the numbers show that this approach is clearly flawed and that we’re missing something important. The US has 7,000 students drop out of high school every day and of those in prison, 65% dropped out of high school. The reason that we haven’t been able to change the path that we’re going down comes down a matter of attitude and the people who work at the schools that are currently failing. While there are obviously teachers and administrators who care and do fantastic jobs, there is clearly something toxic about the current attitudes of the educational establishment.

    There are some simple and cost effective steps that can be taken to help turn the tide that is threatening to overwhelm us. The first is to simply improve the quality of our teachers by making it more difficult to become a teacher. Colleges with the lowest SAT scores are teaching schools and that’s completely unacceptable. Certification laws mean that education schools are able to certify who they want, regardless of skill or desire. This means that those best poised to become teachers don’t want to because of the low quality in peer and education. Improving leadership is also necessary, especially seeing as how the basics to become a school principal are about as low as those for becoming a teacher. If we are able to fix our system at the top and populate it with professional and caring teachers and officials, we will see a drastic change in dropout rates and the quality of student who graduates.

    If you’d like to read more, the link is here.