The Cougar Chronicle

Four lessons for a son

Damon Stevens, Enrollment Management Services

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Good morning friends, family, guest, faculty and last, but not least fellow graduates. My name is Damon Stevens.

I first want to say, I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute this article. I have waited many, many years for this day.

So you may be wondering to yourself “Why is this old guy contributing to the campus newspaper?”

I’m not here to give you advice, or tell you what to do. I am here to share four lessons I learned from my mother that I believe could become our guide to success.

This journey started in 1973, September 4 to be exact. My brother arrived. I was only 4, but knew I needed a little brother. I watched my mother’s stomach grow for nine months, but still believed little brothers came from the store.

Years later, I would beg my parents to take him back to the store. The little brother I wanted so badly wouldn’t listen to me. I had been on Earth  four years longer and surely with all that experience, he should have realized to do things my way. For example, he would never keep his side of the room clean, he never listened when I told him to stop touching my stuff. He didn’t realize big brother always knows best!

That’s where I learned lesson  one from my mother. Just because things aren’t done my way or  things aren’t being done your way, doesn’t mean they are being done the wrong way. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood I would be reminded of this many times.

After this rocky start, my brother and I,  began to slowly grow together. Soon it was time for high school and then college, or so I thought. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the focus or discipline for college. Not something I’m proud of, especially since I watched my mother work full time, cook, clean, take care of a family of four then spend her nights studying at the kitchen table. Her actions showed the importance of education.

Throughout high school, watching TV increased my desire to go to California. I am from St. Louis and in my mind at that time everything happened in California and that’s where I needed to be. In 1989, the Navy allowed my dream of coming to California come true. I spent most of a 24 year career here in sunny San Diego.

During those years my mother continued her education earned her Bachelor of Science in Business and Masters of Arts in Computer and Information Resources Management and Human Resources Development.

In 2013, I got out of the Navy. I had a tremendous retirement ceremony and party that night. I was on top of the world. The next morning I thought I would get a speech on how good I had done. My mother was  direct. Her words could cut you deep if you weren’t prepared. She said “So when does school start?” I was speechless. I finally worked up enough nerve to ask her “Why do you keep telling me to go to school?” Lesson two followed. She said, “the Navy was 24 years, but education is forever. It’s the one thing that can never be taken from you.”

Our education gives us the critical thinking skills to question others RESPECTFULLY, I stress respectfully, and the intelligence and courage to stand up when we disagree.

The following year, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her first order to me was “stay in school” I will let you know when I need you to come home. Over the next several months, I struggled to maintain focus, but knew the best thing I could do for her was to stay here and stay in class.

Soon it was time for a new semester. On the first day of class, I explained to my professors what was going on. I said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I have been warned by my mother not to drop out of class.”

As the months passed by, family and the lady who would become my wife surrounded in support while I continued my education. I made many trips to visit mom in St. Louis, fired off hundreds of emails, thousands of text messages in order to stay informed even facetimed during doctors’ appointments. I was over 2000 miles away, but I was in the know.

On one trip home I received lesson three. It was  simple, but needed to be shared. Communicating by text messages, email, snapchat, and even smoke signals are all great, but they don’t always convey the message like face to face communications. According to David Grossman of the Grossman group, “communicating face-to-face sends a message before you say a word. It demonstrates that your audience is important, and enhances credibility and trust.” At my last job interview, I was asked a simple question, “give me an example when you displayed effective communication. Not tell me about your texting ability.”

Moving forward, by now mom was confined to bed and the cancer was taking its toll. During my visits, she always had plans to discuss, questions to ask. School was always in session. I learned more about her in her last few weeks than in the previous years combined simply by closing my mouth and opening my ears. By this time her hearing was becoming very sensitive with the slightest sound creating pain. I shifted to listening mode in an attempt to suck up as much knowledge as possible. One day, as I was sitting by her bedside, she asked how school was going. I confided that Geography was kicking my butt. Lesson four came shortly after, which among other things included an overview of the theory of plate tectonics, to include an explanation of the features and movements of Earth’s surface in the present and the past. Don’t let all that stuff fool you. The true lesson is that you can learn from anybody, anyplace, anytime.

In Dec. 2014 just a few days before Christmas my mother received the call from heaven. She was needed above. But keep your head high. This is not a sad story because  her words and lessons remain down here with me.

So in closing, I want to leave you with a few thoughts. Today we will receive our diplomas, we can announce to the world we are college graduates, but today is not the day we throw our books and pencils in the trash or burn our library cards or left over scantrons. Remember, today we have  proven our ability to continue to learn. I say again, today we have proven our ability to continue to learn. Neale Donald Walsch said, “life begins when you leave your comfort zone.”

As we leave our comfort zones, as we leave the confines of the university I hope that you embrace the four lessons I learned from my mother. I pray that in some way you are able to use these lessons in your own life.

Remember it’s not wrong just because it’s not done our way, education never ends, it’s forever, text messages, emails and smoke signals don’t replace communicating in person. As Denzel Washington said, “just because you’re doing more doesn’t mean you’re getting more done.” You can learn from anybody, anyplace, at any time.

Some days I succeed in following these lessons and some days I fail miserably. In fact, for me to stand up here today and proclaim that I follow these lessons without fail is crazy. Almost as crazy as a certain person saying that repealing Obamacare, building a wall, a hiring his son in law to fix the criminal justice system will make America great again. But then the sun rises signaling the start of another day, it also signals another opportunity for success.

Thank you,

Damon Stevens

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