Sample Speech # 7
Wendy Kopp came up with the idea of Teach for
while writing her senior thesis at
University. Once Kopp graduated, she
made her dream into a reality by creating a successful organization through
which several thousand college graduates have already been sent to teach in
needy public schools across the country. In the commencement address that
follows, delivered at
University on May 20, 1995, Kopp explains that she
and others were able to make Teach for
a success because they all
believed that the organization's goals justified a great investment of work,
time, and sacrifice. Ultimately, her message is meant to inspire audience
members to dedicate themselves to pursuing their own convictions and finding a
way to make a difference.
I'm honored to have the chance to talk with you all
on this important occasion, and I'm truly excited to have a few minutes to
share what I have learned since graduating from college six years ago.
At that time, back in May of 1989, I was still a
college senior just two weeks away from my own graduation. I remember very
clearly what I was thinking and doing.
I was obsessed with the idea of a national teacher
corps—a corps of recent college graduates who would commit two years to teach
in urban and rural public schools suffering from persistent teacher shortages.
I imagined thousands of the nation's most talented graduating seniors from all
different academic majors clamoring to be a part of a movement to build our
nation's future. I imagined hundreds of them working in schools across the
country going above and beyond to motivate their students to fulfill their true
potential. I imagined an ever-expanding force of leaders who would advocate
throughout their lives for educational excellence and equity. I envisioned this
national teacher corps changing lives and deepening the conscience of our
I was determined to make Teach for
a reality, and luckily I
was uncommonly naive—so naive that I believed that this could happen. The plan
was to recruit 500 people in the first year, train them together during a
summer, place them in five or six sites across the country and support the
entire effort on grants from corporations and foundations.
I began by writing letters to 30 CEOs at randomly
selected corporations, hoping that one of them would give me a seed grant.
Miraculously, one of the letters reached an executive at Mobil who took the
time to read my proposal, thought it was a great idea, and decided to give me
the $26,000 necessary to spend my summer working to get Teach for
off the ground.
I knew I could not create Teach for
alone, and so I began
searching for a group of other recent college graduates who would dedicate
themselves full-time to this mission. Within a few months, some phenomenal
individuals had come together. Many of them would devote 16 or more hours a
day, for two or three or four or five years even, to see through the creation
of Teach for
Our first step was to find a student on each of 100
college campuses to spread the word about Teach for
America. One hundred students
across the country determined that this had to happen
and took the personal initiative to distribute flyers, to hold events, to
encourage their peers to commit two years to teach in the nation's most
under-resourced public schools.
In response to this call to action, 2,500
individuals applied to Teach for
in a four-month period. Of
these, 500 charter corps members committed to Teach for
America. We organized an eight-week
summer training program for them, and then they traveled to school districts in
five different places across the country. They assumed teaching positions in
school districts where someone—a superintendent or a personnel director—had
understood our vision, believed in it, and decided to help us make it a
reality. By the end of the year, corporations and foundations had committed
more than $2 million to us to pay all the expenses we incurred.
Over the past six years, we have inspired 18,000
individuals to compete to enter Teach for
America. As of this coming fall, we
will have trained and placed more than 3,000 of them in 15 communities across
the country. At any given time, 1,000 Teach for America corps members
everywhere from South Central Los Angeles to the rural South to the South Bronx
are going above and beyond to help their students excel. And each year, the
force of alumni who have been fundamentally shaped by this experience and who
are acting on this experience expands by 500.
I tell this story in such great detail because I want
to convey how and why Teach for
actually came to be. Teach
came to be because people with strong convictions—convictions fundamentally
based on compassion for others and on an ambitious sense of the possible—were
willing to take difficult steps to act on those convictions. Teach for
is here today because of the executive at Mobil, because of the recent college
graduates who devoted themselves to our staff, because of the 100 college
students who committed to inspire their peers to apply, because of the 500
charter corps members, because of the district superintendents, because of the
people who committed funds. It would have been easier for the executive at
Mobil to have not made that grant. It would have been easier for the people who
joined our staff to remain in their other jobs. It would have been easier for
those 500 recent college graduates to take positions with organizations that
had proven records and offered more security. But for all these people, it
wasn't an option to do what was easier.
I know I'm speaking here today because I'm a young
person who has started an organization, but I didn't want you all to come away from
this thinking that the way to make a difference is to go start your own
organization. That might be the right thing for some people, but it won't be
for everyone. I do believe, however, that all of us owe it to ourselves and to
the world to spend our lives searching for what we believe, searching
constantly for what's “right.” We owe it to ourselves and to the world to base
our convictions on compassion for others—whether that means to us compassion
for members of our families or communities or nation. We owe it to ourselves
and to the world to operate on the assumption that positive change can happen.
We owe it to ourselves and to the world to make the daily choices—always—to act
on our beliefs.
There's no excuse for living life any other way, but
there are many people who do. There are people whose reason for being is to
shoot down what other people believe. There are people whose sole purpose in
life is to be well liked. There are others who are guided by cynicism and
doubt, some who live simply to get by, and still others who simply don't have
the personal confidence to act on their beliefs. It's easier for people to live
this way, but ultimately it's less fulfilling and less meaningful.
The coming years have the potential to be the most
broadening, expanding, enlightening years of your lives. I hope you will use
them to engage yourself in a constant search for what is right. Put yourselves
in foreign situations, in challenging situations, in situations which will
deepen your empathy for others, your understanding of others, your concern for others. I hope that as we learn, we'll hold
on to our sense of possibility. We'll certainly learn about lots of obstacles
to change, but in spite of those obstacles we must hold on to the belief that
positive change can happen—because it is that belief that will give us the
purpose and the strength to act on what we believe is right. Then it's simply a
matter of refusing to compromise the convictions we form.
I want to leave you with a short story that
illustrates the power of this approach to life. Two Teach for
corps members in the
wrote me last week to tell me about a student of theirs. Juan is, they wrote,
“at once, the callus handed field worker who helps his family pay for a small,
two-room house by picking citrus fruit or pulling onions, and the wide-eyed,
book-toting genius who insatiably absorbs knowledge and ideas before throwing
that knowledge back to a teacher with questions—questions that demonstrate not
only a comprehensive understanding of the material but also a profound desire
and ability to challenge it and make it his own.” Our corps members described
their dream that Juan would attend summer school at
where he would learn from Rhodes Scholars and university professors, and where
he would continue his unbelievably rapid intellectual growth. Now Juan has been
accepted to a highly competitive program there, and his two teachers are
working furiously to raise [the] $5,500 necessary to enable him to go. These
teachers didn't have to notice Juan's potential, they wouldn't have had to
encourage him to apply to the
program, and now they wouldn't have to go to extraordinary effort to raise the necessary funding. But their conviction,
compassion, their sense of possibility, and their determination to do what is
right have led them down this path. Juan's life may very well be different
because of it.
I wish you all the best. Thank you very much.
1. What is the general purpose of this speech? What is
its specific purpose?
2. How does Kopp establish her credibility in this
3. How does the speaker target her message and adapt to
4. What technique does Kopp use to end her speech with