Thursday, May 14, 2015

Denzel Washington to College Grads: 'Put God First'

In delivering the commencement speech at Dillard University on Sunday, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington told the college graduates to "put God first" in everything they do, adding that everything he has accomplished in this life was due to "the grace of God."

"I’m going to keep it short," said Washington, who received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters at the ceremony. 

"Number one: Put God first," he said.  "Put God first in everything you do."

"Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have – and I have a few things," said Washington. "Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift."

In leading up to those remarks, the star of such films as Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, The Book of Eli, and The Equalizer, said, “When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’"

"She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!" he continued.  "She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind."

"She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'" recounted Washington.  "'I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’"

"So, I’m saying that because I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, all the people that helped you get to where you are today," Washington told the graduates.  "I’m going to tell you about three stories. I’m going to keep it short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

"I’m going to keep it short," he said, and then made his point about God and putting Him first in our lives.  "Number one: Put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me.  Everything I’ve accomplished, everything thing you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift."

Towards the end of his speech, Washington repeated some of the comments he has made over the years about reliance on God. He reminded that crowd that no matter how much you attain in material goods, "you will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse."

He also told the graduates of the small, private, historically black college in New Orleans, "I pray that you put your slippers under your bed tonight, so that when you wake up in the morning you have to get on your knees to reach them."

“And while you’re down there, say thank you," he said.  "Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents. ... True desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already."

In addition to his movie work, Denzel Washington has acted in the theater, in productions of Richard III, Julius Caesar, and A Raisin in the Sun.  He won an Academy Award for best actor in the 2001 film Training Day, and a best supporting actor Academy Award for the 1989 film Glory.

In a January 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she asked Washington, “What makes you the most proud?”  He said,  “I'm careful about the word ‘proud.’ I'm happy to have read the Bible from cover to cover. I'm on my second go-round—I read one chapter a day. Right now I'm digging John. He just had dinner with Mary, and things are about to take a turn for the worse.”

Denzel Washington, 60, is married, has five children and is a Pentecostal Christian.


Ohio Budget Defunds Common Core Testing

The Buckeye state is fighting back against the intrusive federal testing mandates that come with Common Core education standards. A House version of the state’s budget contains provisions defunding and blocking the use of PARCC, the set of Common Core aligned assessments that have students in tears all over the country.

The Ohio legislature unsuccessfully tried to repeal Common Core standards out right last year, and Governor Kasich’s support of the standards remains a major obstacle to reforms, but it’s commendable that these lawmakers are willing to stand on principle and fight to return local control to the classroom.

Students, parents, teachers, and even some unions are now opposing Common Core and the accompanying tests, complaining that the amount of classroom time devoted to test preparation is detracting from genuine education, and inhibiting teacher flexibility. In a striking illustration of this, last year’s teacher of the year, from Lorain County, Ohio, resigned, saying, “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

The U.S. Department of Education warns that Ohio could lose up to $750 million in federal funding if it follows through on ditching PARCC tests. When defenders of Common Core insist that it is a state-led program, not mandated by the federal government, they invariably neglect to mention these kinds of financial threats that make it all but impossible for states to escape from under the federal government’s thumb.

Until Congress acts to prevent the Department of Education from bullying states into adopting its standards, state legislatures are facing an uphill battle, since governors don’t want to risk education funding. But as more Americans become frustrated with increased standards and testing requirements, or opt out en masse from the testing, something will eventually have to give.

Opting out of tests, which is legal in most states, can also cost schools their funding, which is why some schools have tried to intimidate parents and students into complying with the assessments. If enough parents start refusing, the issue of federal funding may become a moot point, and free up states to be more proactive in their efforts to reform education.

For now, we should encourage state legislatures to follow Ohio’s lead and tell governors that we are no longer willing to accept a system that puts test scores and uniformity ahead of our children’s well-being.


Britain’s most inspiring university: You can study everything from Arabic to Scrabble and even learn to canoe and it’s changing the lives of countless over-50s...

Not mentioned below is that U3A originated in France

The first day of university is always a scary prospect, and it was certainly no exception for Sue Jeavons.

Despite the fine spring morning and the fact that other students were milling around near by, she felt quite alone and nervous as she waited for her first lesson to begin.

But Sue is no shy teenager — she is a 63-year-old former manager, mother of two and grandmother of six.

‘I was filled with apprehension,’ says Sue. ‘It was such a large place. I had no idea what the people I was meeting would look like.’

Happily for Sue, a 45 ft canoe is a hard thing to miss. For along with the 11 others gathered on the banks of Lake Trentham, near Stone in Staffordshire, she was about to embark on her first canoeing class, having joined one of the most unorthodox universities in the world.

No other educational establishment would arrange a field trip where the combined student age totalled more than 800 years.

But, then, there is nothing ordinary about the University of the Third Age (U3A), which aims to promote late-life learning for those who are retired, semi-retired or have finished raising families.

There’s no campus, for a start — just a small head office in Bromley, Kent. Nor is there any curricula, term-times or entrance exams.

Rather than run into thousands, the annual tuition fees are between £10 and £20, depending on where you live (it’s not run for profit), and each local U3A group — there are almost 1,000 — decides what they study, where and when.

As for the 36,000 subjects on offer, well, they are as wide-ranging as the students and cover everything from the serious to the sublime.

Arabic, history, maths and chemistry are timetabled next to Druidism, Scrabble, botanical illustration, how to dress, unsolved murder cases and bus restoration.

Sue Jeavons, a former occupational therapy manager, joined Stone U3A four years ago, aged 59, after she found retirement an unexpected shock to the system.

‘I had worked for 30 years and always had people around me. Suddenly, it was just my husband, Phil [66 and a retired teacher] and me at home. There were too many hours in the day. We didn’t have family who lived near by and I didn’t settle into it at all well.’

After a couple of months of feeling isolated and lonely, she heard about U3A through a friend and went online to see what was on offer in her area.

‘I was looking for something that would be active to get me out of the house,’ she says. ‘I saw canoeing and thought it looked superb.’

Her instructor, Ivor Warrilow, is 82 and had been teaching the group for nine years. ‘There was so much laughter and chatter in the boat that I quickly forgot my fears,’ says Sue.

The hour-and-a-half flew by and Sue has gone every week since, making new friends along the way.

‘My arms ached for the first week, but it soon went. Canoeing keeps me active all year round and my fitness has definitely improved.

‘If it’s torrential rain, very windy or there’s ice on the lake, we don’t go out — though if it’s drizzling, we brave it.’

For Jean Morgan, 75, joining the U3A has also proved to be a lifeline. Before retirement, she ran a care home for elderly people with her partner, John, 75, and was on call 24 hours a day. It was a happy and busy life.

‘We were exhausted when it finished, but suddenly everything stopped. No one came to the door any more; no one popped around to see if I could help with anything. We had also just moved, so I didn’t know anyone. We fell into a quiet, inactive life,’ she says.

Then, through her sister-in-law, Jean heard about a local group that was forming. They went along together to find out more — and were hooked. That was 18 years ago and Jean now attends classes in jazz, the card game canasta and film at Weald U3A. She also runs a discussion group intriguingly entitled Explore The Unexplained, which has covered everything from crop circles to guardian angels.

‘I’m at U3A meetings more often than I am at home,’ says Jean. ‘There’s always something going on to look forward to. It’s sociable and stimulating. ‘This is brilliant. Learning is life-affirming. My family applaud the fact that I am always so interested in things. It keeps me alive, alert and cheerful.’

Jean notches up more than 30 hours a month going to classes or studying.

For that, she pays a £16 annual fee, plus a little extra now and then for refreshments or to rent a room, though most meetings take place at a member’s house.

Teacher and student Jean Tweddle, 65, from Harrogate, holds her classes in her sitting room. She runs a dolls’ house group — having become ‘totally addicted’ to making miniature furniture eight years ago.

Jean’s husband John, meanwhile, opted for a crash course in French before the couple travelled to France for the wedding of two friends last year.

‘Of course, when we got to the wedding, everyone wanted to practise their English on John instead, but he really enjoyed learning a new language.’

With no cap on the age limit, there are students aged from 50 to 90, says Barbara Lewis, chairman of the Third Age Trust, the umbrella group that oversees all U3A activities. And anyone can volunteer to start a class in almost anything.

It’s this hotchpotch arrangement, drawing on thousands of life skills, interests and hobbies, that is proving so successful.

‘The U3A is not bricks and mortar. It’s there for the sheer enjoyment of learning new things and to allow people to explore new topics together,’ she says.

‘We have people from all walks of life starting groups; from academics and teachers to women who have raised families and never had a job.

‘It gives people a new lease of life. I see lots of members who have just lost a partner and don’t know what to do. A GP told me the best prescription for loneliness is U3A.’

Andrew Williams, an NHS consultant at Guys and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, says: ‘There is good evidence that physical activity, mental activity and active socialisation all reduce the likelihood of developing cognitive impairment and dementia.’

In a steadily ageing society, the U3A is also a reminder of the pool of talent and expertise that exists beyond the age of retirement.


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