When people have access to education, it enables them to make informed choices, develop their potential, and have an equal opportunity to thrive. That was one of the key messages I shared as the keynote speaker for a group of eighth graders who are transitioning to high school in the fall. I challenged them to own their education with fierce determination because it's a privilege that can never be taken for granted.
I explained how access empowers them with knowledge, helps them grow, and fuels progress. They were exposed to the story of Benjamin Banneker, a remarkable African-American inventor who was denied access to education, but demonstrated how self-taught knowledge empowered him to not only be an instrumental surveyor in the blueprint design of Washington, DC, but also became an advocate. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, published a book promoting the notion that black people were intellectually inferior. Banneker became a powerful testament to the transformative power of knowledge by writing an eloquent letter to Jefferson denouncing the biased ideology. This proves how much more they can achieve today with all of the endless access they have to information. Additionally, I challenged them to remain vigilant with the age of technology as artificial intelligence is positioned to affect every aspect of life.
Throughout my speech, I used a demonstration that was relevant, impactful, and aligned with my message. I had three students come up at different times to try to guess the access code to my cell phone. If successful, each of them could've walked away with twenty dollars each. Unfortunately, none of them were able to figure out my password. I reminded the scholars that each year their teachers from kindergarten to twelfth grade are poised to give them a portion of the code they need to unlock the vast resources the world has to offer. It is up to them to either learn the password or end up locked out of a good life in the future.
Lastly, I challenged the guardians and family members who were in attendance to play their part in monitoring the access they give to the youth. Unsupervised access to social media and other outlets are devouring young people at an alarming rate. It is the adults' job to understand that they are a child's first and most important educator. The life skills of respect, accountability, responsibility, and time management are values that are transferable to a student's educational success in the classroom. The reality of it is, if they don't educate the children at home, the world will gladly destroy their future. Many of the advice I offered during the graduation will be in my book, The Educational Formula, that is set to be released this summer.
Berwick Augustin is the founder of Evoke180, a leading publishing company that also specializes in Haitian-Creole translations. He is an educational consultant and keynote speaker who embodies two decades of experience as a writer, teacher, and assistant principal. Berwick is the author, most recently, of bilingual books, Days, Months, and Seasons in Haitian-Creole, The Haitian-Creole Alphabet-and 1803 The Haitian Flag.