Why I’m Feeling Grateful This Week: Retirement Speech about Dots, Paris, and One Amazing Woman

This week, I was honored to give a speech about the impact that Dr. Mary Arnold had on my life so far. She’s retiring from the Department of Journalism at South Dakota State University and I’m feeling so grateful after the words I spoke to her. It’s often times like these (somewhat unexpected) that makes me so thankful life works out the way it does. The person who asked me to speak at her banquet said I was the perfect person because I had Dr. Arnold for a teacher, I went to Paris with her, I won her first scholarship, I came back to teach in her department at SDSU, and I started graduate classes from her department. I have a lot to thank her for.

She started at SDSU in 2002, when being a female department head wasn’t as popular as it is today. She was one the first college role models I had — showing me what it meant to be a strong woman leading an entire department. Here are the words I shared with her on Monday. I knew I wanted to include a book reference (very journalistic, right?) and I wanted to write the speech in letter form to her. I used words like “you” instead of “she” or “her”. I wrote this as if it were a personal letter to her. (Also part of my plan to stick with the journalistic theme. So far so good.) Here goes…

Good afternoon! My name is Renee Halgerson and I am so excited to help congratulate Dr. Mary Arnold today. Thank you so much.

To honor her retirement from the Department of Journalism, what better way to start than with a literary celebration of creativity – the very definition of journalism.

This is a short story called “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds.

Art class was over, but Vashti sat, glued to her chair because her paper was empty.

Vashti’s teacher leaned over her blank paper. Ahhh…she said. I see it. A polar bear in a snow storm.”

Very funny, said Vashti. I just can’t draw.

Her teacher smiled. Just make a mark and see where it takes you.

Vashti grabbed a marker and gave the paper a good strong jab. There.

Her teacher picked up the paper and studied it carefully. Hmmm…

She pushed the paper toward Vashti and said, “Now sign it.”

Vashti thought for a moment, “Well, maybe I can’t draw, but I can sign my name.”

The next week when Vashti walked into art class, she was surprised to see what was hanging above her teacher’s desk. It was the little dot she had drawn. Her dot.

All framed in swirly gold.

Huh. I can make a better dot than that, said Vashti.

She found her never-before-opened set of watercolors and set to work.

A red dot. A purple dot. A yellow dot. A blue dot.

Vashti painted and painted.

The blue mixed with the yellow and she discovered that she could make a green dot.

Vashti kept experimenting.

Lots of little dots in many colors.

If I can make small dots, I bet I can make big dots too.

Vashti splashed her bigger dots on bigger paper with a bigger brush.

At the school art show a few weeks later, Vashti’s many dots made quite a splash.

Vashti noticed a little boy glancing up at her.

“You’re a really great artist. I wish I could draw” He said

You can, said Vashti.

Me?! No, not me. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

Vashti smiled. She handed the boy a blank sheet of paper. Show me.

The boy’s pencil shook as he drew his line.

Vashti stared at the boy’s squiggle. Then she said, “Sign it.”

Dr. Arnold, you believed in my dot. You’ve believed in hundreds of students’ dots.

In fact, my name is literally hanging in your office on a plaque framed in gold.

You even inspired and encouraged me to start teaching in the Journalism department and believe in my student’s squiggly lines.

This book was such a perfect representation of the impact you’ve had on me as a former student. As we just learned in this book, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you gave me confidence with your kind gestures. Here’s just one example.

You became head of the Journalism Department in 2002, (and I started classes in 2001 – but who’s really counting). I had you for classes like Media Law (which I still remember to this day). I was getting ready to graduate in 2005 and you must have seen the potential in my little dot. I was an eager student who didn’t have a lot of money, but I SO wanted to go to the International Media Seminar in Paris that summer with you and two other students. You started the first annual “Student Leadership” scholarship and I was the recipient.

My name is engraved in gold in your office along with many other students along the years.

You saw a need and your big heart filled it.

Yes, I’m a nerd and I keep a travel journal. My very first entry? The trip to Paris with Dr. Arnold. Here is a line from my journal:

“After attending our first week of classes, I am realizing that we are very lucky as students. If not for this wonderful International Seminar, we would be like every other tourist group that visits Paris. Most tourist groups walk together, talk together, and think together – all in their same American ways. They are rarely encouraged to open their cultural senses up to the real culture, people, homes, government, media, and views of Parisians. American tourists open their eyes to the sites, but until you open your heart to the culture, you can never really appreciate a different lifestyle.”

Dr. Arnold, did you know that after that trip with you, I made it my goal to take an international trip every-other year? I have opened my eyes to new cultures since 2005. I left the country in 07, 09, 11, 13, 15 and now it’s 2017 and I have you to thank for making this trip so impactful that I would want to keep filling this travel journal.  So this is the year! Plussss…that Paris trip was memorable because you got your passport stolen. But we won’t tell anybody about that part. Haha! It was because of you that I was able to have that experience.

Then, in 2015, I got to return to the Journalism Department teaching some Mass Communication classes. I was able to work with you on a professional level while I taught three classes full of eager students – paying it forward – and believing in their lines.

Congratulations on your retirement from a department and university that will miss you greatly! You have impacted every person in this room – and that alone is a huge legacy to be proud of. Thank you for believing in each of our dots! Congratulations.

 

And there you have it. This woman makes me grateful to have had so many wonderful female role models shaping the way I see myself and my goals. The Monday I gave this talk also followed a weekend full of golf, laughter, friends, good food and the first part of an incredible journey with Dakota Rising. (Carrie and I won a grant through Dakota Resources and our first cohort meeting was in Faulkton that weekend. It was a gut-wrenching dissection of our businesses. The good, the bad, the ugly, the unplanned parts, the gaps, the strengths, and the accountability. It was an incredible first step toward making Hitch Studio a bigger, better company. And that’s the goal! As one of the fellow grant participants in our class said, “I am on a HIGH this week! I have accomplished more in the last two days than I feel like I did in weeks. This stuff is powerful! You are all powerful! I’m so blessed to soak up all the combined knowledge and insight from this awesome group!”. Yeah, it’s that good.

Whether it’s a person you admire, a woman who influenced you, a team of strong business owners, or a friend who delivers a good laugh just when you need it, tell them. Thank them. Show your gratitude. Comment on their social media. Compliment them. I even keep a gratitude journal. Yep, I got it at Hitch. Yep, I write in it often.

I also finished three books in the past couple weeks that reinforce this idea:

  1. “Girl Code” by Cara Alwill Leyba
  2. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
  3. “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier
  4. Next up: “Business Boutique” by Christy Wright

We all need to share a little more gratitude.

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