Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year National Winner
Donna C. Boyd
Professor of Anthropology
Thank you, Audrey. And thank you to CASE, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, TIAA-CREF, and Phi Beta Kappa for their generous support of outstanding scholarship. And thank you to Radford University, including its administration, staff, and especially its professors, for providing a place where such outstanding scholarship can occur.
I would like to speak briefly today about the meaning and uses of outstanding scholarship, for which this award is bestowed. I recently found myself rereading my favorite novel, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. This book has always defined, for me, what it means to be a "scholar." For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in late 19th century England and details the tragic quest of a poor working-class man to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a recognized scholar and gain admittance to Christminster, Hardy's name for Oxford. Jude, the aspiring scholar, was self-taught for many years in Greek, Latin and the other Classics. Partly through class prejudice, the Christminster Fellows refuse Jude admittance, advising him to continue his trade in stone masonry. The consequences of these unfulfilled dreams are tragic, indeed, and Jude considers himself a failure in life. Sadly, toward the end of the story, Jude observes: "I hear that soon there is going to be a better chance for such helpless students as I was. There are schemes afoot for making the university less exclusive, and extending its influence...And, it is too late for me! Ah-and for how many worthier ones before me!"
Which brings me to Audrey. I first met Audrey five years ago when she enrolled in my Introduction to Physical Anthropology course. Older than all my other students as well as myself and having already had a successful career as a lab technician, her dream was to finish her college degree. Eventually, she made her way to my forensic anthropology class and expressed to me her desire to do forensics. I have to admit to some skepticism at this prospect, given the highly competitive nature of the forensic field. But to my absolute joy, with my help, Audrey made it happen and is now working in the top forensic anthropology laboratory in the world.
You may be wondering at this point what Audrey, forensic anthropology, Jude the Obscure, and my acceptance of this award have in common-quite a lot, actually-all relating to my philosophy of life and teaching. First, it is my firm belief that all of us have within ourselves the ability to do enormous good as well as harm in this world. But as Dumbledore said to Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets, "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." As a forensic anthropologist routinely working at crime scenes, I all too frequently see the results of the "harm." But as a professor at Radford University, I have been blessed to see and participate in the potential for good-involving the fulfillment of lifelong dreams and aspirations, most of which hinge upon the pursuit of an outstanding education. Everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, or creed, should have the equal opportunity to earn such an education, to learn how to think independently and critically-to become an outstanding scholar. The alternative, suffering through an obscure life with unfulfilled dreams like Jude, is unacceptable. Unfortunately, I know too many of these people and it troubles me greatly.
Even more importantly, I firmly believe it is our obligation to use the knowledge that we acquire in service to others. It is our responsibility, in fact, to give to others a part of ourselves. The best teachers have done this for me, and this I equate with the meaning of success. To quote Jude the Obscure again, "Remember that the best and greatest among mankind are those who do themselves no worldly good." Teaching our students to do this is no easy task, but Audrey's work at JPAC/CIL in the identification of our missing American soldiers from past wars is a prime example of such selfless service. It has led to much-needed closure for still grieving military families, and I am most proud to have been able to train Audrey for such service.
In closing, I want to thank Audrey as well as my other students (a few able to be present today, but the more than 5,000 others not) for allowing me to give a part of myself to them. Many of these students are the true award winners, however, by taking the initiative to use the knowledge, training, and hopefully compassion that we, as professors, have imparted to them to make the world a better place, even if just in a very small way.
And to return to my original musings about the meaning of scholarship, I contend that Jude, in spite of the absence of institutional recognition, was indeed an outstanding scholar through his ability to think and learn independently, critically, and, most importantly, thoughtfully. Likewise, many of my colleagues and even my own family members (including my husband, mother, father, sister and grandmother, all of whom either are or were teachers) have modeled this process for me and shown me how to impart it to students like Audrey. Even though they may never receive an outstanding faculty award, they represent outstanding scholars to me and it is for them that I humbly accept this award. Thank you.
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