This speech was given by Evan McLauglin '10 at the 2009 Scholarship Dinner on Thursday, October 29, 2009. Evan, who is the recipient of The Dan Wilson Scholarship, is pictured above with Dr. Carol Shiner Wilson and Dr. Dan Wilson.
Good evening President Helm, Trustees, generous scholarship donors and fellow students. It is my distinct honor, pleasure and privilege to speak with you tonight. Saying it is my privilege to be here is not just rhetoric – without your generous contributions to Muhlenberg scholarships and financial aid, I truly would not be standing here before you. During my first year, President Helm spoke to my class and said “less than one percent of all the eighteen-year-olds in the world today have the opportunity to pursue higher education. Not only are you among this lucky few, but you are at one of the very best colleges in the very best systems of higher education in the world.” Thus, as a Muhlenberg student, I feel as though I am among truly special and elite company.
I am in my senior year here at Muhlenberg, majoring in history and planning a career in teaching. But I clearly remember the summer leading up to my first semester at Muhlenberg. I was very anxious at the thought of moving on to college; but the thought that I was attending a college filled with faculty and administration who are truly invested and devoted to my development not only as a student, but as a person as well, assuaged my concerns. I also remember signing the matriculation ledger at President Helm’s house. I didn’t know what to say. How do you address the President of the College when you aren’t even technically a freshman yet?
I was somewhat intimidated to meet him, so I decided to ask my father for advice. I asked my father, “What should I say to President Helm when I see him?” He responded, “It’s not hard, just say your name and that you are ready to work.” And with that advice, I shook the President’s hand, told him my name and said that I was ready to work. At that moment I had no idea where that kind of work ethic would take me. Throughout the last four years, I often spent more time in the library than I did in my own dorm room. I even know all of the library staff on a first name basis. I feel very fortunate to have my efforts recognized by this institution.
"Saying it is my privilege to be here is not just rhetoric – without your generous contributions to Muhlenberg scholarships and financial aid, I truly would not be standing here before you.” "
I’ve read that something like eighty-eight percent of college students change their major during their undergraduate education; however, I am not part of that majority. My mother could have told you that I was going to be a teacher from elementary school. I’ve been a part of tutoring programs and helping people around me since I was young. From my freshman year onward, I’ve worked hard at honing my teaching ability through tutoring, attending classes and fieldwork experiences in local public schools. While I am not yet a master teacher, I have made a significant impact on the lives of my students in the public schools and the college students I tutor.
For example, after working in Lower Macungie Middle School, the teachers and students gave me a framed poem about a man that rescues stranded starfish before they broil on the beach’s scorching sand. In the poem, a little boy questions the man and asks why he works so hard even though he will never succeed in saving every starfish on the beach. Before he gently tosses a starfish into the safety of the waves, the man responds that his effort makes a difference to the starfish he is holding. I appreciated this gift so much that I keep the framed poem above my desk. It is the first message that I see before I drive off to student teaching and the last message I see before I stop working for the night. It focuses my effort and emotions on my ultimate goal: educating students to improve the future before the mistakes of the past are repeated.
Until recently, I had no idea how significant an impact the care and devotion of the Muhlenberg community would have on my education, and by extension, my life. In June 2008, my parents divorced. Suddenly, my dreams of a college degree and a career in teaching were put into serious jeopardy. Over the course of one summer I went from being like the man trying to save the starfish, to the starfish itself, broiling in the sun of financial burden. But the financial aid I am fortunate to receive because of your gifts has made it possible for me to remain where I truly want, and need, to be – at Muhlenberg.
Without your gifts, I would not be the quality student I am today. Additionally, I might not be afforded some of the opportunities which have come my way. In January, I will be traveling to San Diego to present my favorite paper regarding problematic power dynamics in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai at the Phi Alpha Theta history honor society’s biennial convention. I will be one of the first Muhlenberg students to present at this prestigious event. Additionally, I have worked with Dr. Dan Wilson, professor of history, and the gentleman after whom the scholarship I am receiving is named, on preparing for the James Madison Fellowship – a grant which helps civics teachers pay for their master’s degree. I would not have these opportunity to further my education and chase my dreams without the Dan Wilson Scholarship and the generosity of Dr. Carol Shiner Wilson, Dr. Dan Wilson and Mr. Timothy Birch ’80, who have made it possible – thanks so much to all of you.
Usually, speeches end with a quotation from a famous individual. I know what you are thinking, “What quote is he going to regurgitate for me tonight?” Well, I will be quoting a person who has had the most profound impact on my life – one of the most powerful and gracious individuals this world will ever know – my mother. She often describes my work ethic as that of a hungry pit bull – I don’t stop until the job is done. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called home in an anxiety ridden state over an assignment. Her answer has always been both comforting and inspiring: “Your hard work always pays off. Relax, get some sleep, you’ll be fine. I love you.” Indeed, my hard work has paid off and continues to do so. However, I would not be able help America’s future leaders if it wasn’t for the gifts which you have first given me. You have provided me the opportunity to work hard and succeed and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.