Kristin DeMoss, Doctor of Social Studies

May 24, 2019

Kristen DeMoss received an honorary Doctor of Social Studies at Grinnell College Commencement 2019.

Kristin DeMoss

About Kristin DeMoss

In any given class session, English teacher Kristin DeMoss might teach her students the definition of metonymy or explore the techniques that people use to analyze literature. But the real lessons she hopes to impart are far larger. She wants to give her students the skills to succeed and the confidence to thrive in the world beyond her classroom doors.

DeMoss, currently a middle school teacher in Independence, Missouri, has taught a range of middle school and high school English courses. She has been particularly involved in Poetry Out Loud, an organization that encourages students to learn great poetry by memorizing and conveying poems’ meanings through performance.

She often spends hours with her students analyzing the emotion that fuels a single word in a poem, or testing line readings with a scientist’s rigor. She wants her students to know that even seemingly simple poems can have layers of emotion and meaning embedded within them. Her students have gone on to compete at both state and national competitions. They often credit her with helping them develop a love of language and a confidence in their own capabilities.

DeMoss considers one of her most important jobs as a teacher to truly connect and communicate with students in a way that feels valuable to them. It’s why she’s just as happy to walk her students through the lyrics of Katy Perry pop songs as she is analyzing the lines of poet John Keats. Both use succinct and powerful language to share stories and illuminate emotional truths.

By the time students leave her classroom, DeMoss hopes they will have more tools to share their own stories and ideas effectively, and conviction that what they have to say is worth hearing. She wants them to know that they always have someone who cares about them and believes in them not just as students, but as human beings.

For her work to teach all of her students the power of language, and her efforts to give them the confidence and skills to communicate their ideas effectively, we are pleased to recognize Kristin DeMoss.

Transcript

I’m wondering what the chances are I can get my seventh graders to call me Dr. DeMoss tomorrow. Thank you Doctor Kington, Board of Trustees, and esteemed faculty members for including me in today and for having such a special award to honor educators who dreamed that all of their students make it to days like this.

And thank you, Emma Libersky, for nominating me. I'm so proud of you and everything you have accomplished. I'm honored to have been your teacher, your coach, and your friend. You have always been a rockstar and I know you will continue to be in the future. However, if I had known that being your poetry coach all those years ago would result in me being here, I might have reconsidered.

So I have a question I want to pose to all of you students today. Who are you? For the past 17 years or so you probably answered that question with daughter, son, friend, and most likely student, but now you're exiting your role as student.

Sure. Some of you are going onto grad schools, but things are still going to change significantly for you and when they do, who will you be? How will you define yourself? To answer that question, I encourage each of you to consider the world we live in. Yes, we need people who excel in their jobs and you should definitely go and be the best insert-career-here you can be.

But if you do that thing, that career, really well and don't show kindness to people, does it really matter? If you reach the top of your field, but do not take the time to show compassion and help others, have you really accomplished anything? At the end of the day, at the end of your life, what is really going to matter?

The job you do will be valued, don't get me wrong. And pursuing goals is such an amazing and worthwhile journey, but what this world really needs right now are people who care because I hate to break it to you, people suck sometimes. They are rude. They're selfish. They do not listen. Don't be like that. Realize that God puts you here for a reason and put you with other people for a reason, and that reason was not to be an island or a jerk. It was to love him and to be a force for good in this world.

So what does that look like? I'm so glad you asked.

I think it looks like pursuing kindness, not just showing kindness when it seems natural. You see, it's easy to leave a great tip for a nice waitress at a restaurant, but being kind is more than that.

Being kind also means showing compassion and grace to the person who doesn't deserve it.

Being a force for good means treating the custodian in your building with the same amount of respect and honor you show your boss, and not because you want people to think you're a good person, but because you know that he or she is a wonderful and valuable individual.

Caring about someone should be something we do even for the person who rubs us the wrong way and has offended us. We live in an easily offended world and it's such a trap. All being offended does is hurt ourselves because it traps us in our anger and robs us of joy and nothing should hold that kind of power over us. We need to learn to let that stuff go.

Being a force for good means that you intentionally let conflict or potential offense in your life bring out the best version of you because you are the first to listen, to show humility, and it means that you are not a peacekeeper but a peacemaker. It means that you fight with all you have against the divisiveness in this world. There are too many walls up between us and all those walls are based on stupid superficial labels society places on us trying to make us think we're different, that we're better or even that were worse when underneath it all, we are all the same.

Everyone has a story. Everyone is valuable. Everyone deserves kindness and respect. These are the things this world needs. These are the pursuits that matter most in life. Does it produce the same results as our typical ambitions? No. There's no cap and gown ceremony for caring about others, but it does have the potential to influence someone to follow your example and that person can influence the next person and so on and that ripple effect will change the world.

Congratulations on everything you've accomplished here at Grinnell. I wish you all the best as you go on from here. Do well in your pursuits and do good in the world. And when someone asks, who are you, make your answer and your life's impact, something that matters. Thank you.

 [ Applause ]

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