TIME Education

Mom Attends High School Graduation in Late Son’s Place

A Chicago area woman sat among students at Thornton Fractional North High School's graduation in honor of her son who died in a car crash

A mother mourning the loss of her son took his place at the high school graduation ceremony on Wednesday that he was supposed to attend.

Katherine Jackson’s son, 18-year-old Aaron Dunigan, died in a weekend car crash in suburban Chicago after his senior prom, NBC Washington reports. Dunigan was the passenger in a vehicle that crossed over a median and collided with another car; the driver of the car Dunigan rode in was charged with DUI causing death, as well as reckless homicide with a motor vehicle.

On Wednesday, Jackson took her son’s spot among the graduates of Thornton Fractional North High School and walked the stage to receive his diploma.

“[My son] knows his mom never walked the stage,” she said. “I’m going to be his legs and he’s going to be my wings and we’re going to go up there and get our diploma.”

Dunigan, a quarterback, was set to play football at Southern Illinois University in the fall.

[NBC Washington]

TIME U.S.

11-Year-Old College Grad Says ‘This Isn’t Much of a Big Deal to Me’

Tanishq Abraham obtained a 4.0 and three associate's degrees in one year

Tanishq Abraham, 11, graduated from American River College in Sacramento, California, on Wednesday, KCRA Sacramento reports.

“This isn’t much of a big deal to me,” said Abraham, who graduated with a 4.0 and three associate’s degrees just one year after Today reported that he had successfully completed California’s early-exit high school exam.

Although Abraham said some of his fellow graduates were “intimidated” by him, “a lot were really happy that there was a kid in their class.” He crossed the stage wearing a colorful scarf knit by his grandmother. Fittingly, “2 Infinity and Beyond” was written on top of his cap.

ARC officials aren’t yet completely positive that Abraham is the school’s youngest graduate ever, but “he was definitely the youngest this year,” college spokesman Scott Crow told NBC Bay Area.

The whiz kid joined Mensa International at the age of 4 and began taking classes at ARC when he was 7. Abraham’s 9-year-old sister Tiara is on a similarly prodigious path: She’s also a member of Mensa and started taking college classes at age 7, too.

Their mother Taji told KCRA that “even in kindergarten [Tanishq] was pretty ahead, a few years ahead – and then it just went from there.”

Next up for Abraham: getting his M.D. He told KCRA that he wants to become a doctor and medical researcher and, eventually, the president of the United States. He echoed these plans on Twitter on Wednesday, adding that he hopes to earn a Nobel Prize along the way.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Education

5 Things Students Must Know About the New SAT

scantron-close-up
Getty Images

Practice mental math

By now, it is likely not news that the SAT is undergoing a comprehensive revision. Unfortunately for test-takers who will sit for the Redesigned SAT soon after its 2016 release, prep materials for the exam are relatively scarce. Despite this reality, there are still ways to ready yourself. Here are five such tips:

1. Practice with graphs

The Math section of the Redesigned SAT will increase its focus on algebraic and general problem solving, as well as data interpretation. Geometry will still be present, but it will account for a much smaller portion of the test.

To prepare for this shift, review and practice with ACT Science materials. Both ACT Science and SAT Math employ data interpretation and graphing skills, so the time you spend on one exam can benefit you on the other. Due to this increased overlap, it may even make sense to take both the SAT and the ACT. A number of colleges accept both tests, and many will use the score that is most advantageous to you.

2. Learn to work without a calculator

One of the most significant changes on the Math section is a calculator-free portion. This allows the SAT to test for real mathematical understanding, as opposed to the ability to enter numbers into a machine. It is essential to ensure that you can solve the problems outlined above (save for data analysis) without your calculator, so consider completing all your math homework and test practice by hand. This may make the work harder in the short term, but in the long term, you will be ready for this section of the Redesigned SAT.

3. Understand new answer formats

In the past, if a student was struggling with a specific portion of the SAT, I would sometimes recommend that he or she skip the most difficult questions, as wrong answers negatively impacted overall scores. On the Redesigned SAT, that advice is no longer relevant. You will no longer be penalized for wrong answers, and this means that there is no longer a reason to leave any questions blank. Random guessing will remain ineffective, but eliminating even one incorrect answer choice can lead to an improvement in your overall score. When you prepare for the exam, focus on not just finding the correct answers, but on quickly identifying incorrect responses too. This can include “guesstimating” Math questions, and avoiding Evidence-Based Reading and Writing answers that deal in absolutes.

Another important change in answer formats will be the extended-thinking question in the Math section. This question will be a word problem followed by several related questions, all of which test your problem solving skills. The answers to these questions will be “open” (or student produced), rather than multiple-choice. One way to start preparing for the extended-thinking question is to treat all math problems as essentially “open” – solve each practice question with the possible responses covered, and write your answer in the margin. After you finish, compare your result with the answer key. This process will not only help you improve in extended-thinking, but you will almost certainly become stronger with multiple-choice questions, as well.

4. Focus more on reading and less on vocabulary

The Redesigned SAT will feature a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing portion. Here, the primary shift will be an emphasis on parsing real-world texts. Vocabulary will still be relevant insofar as you will need to understand what you read. Gone, however, will be the esoteric terms that characterized earlier versions of the SAT. Instead of memorizing lists of vocabulary words, work on “unpacking” passages. As one example, this sample question requires students to define “parties” given the specific context of the passage. “Parties” is not a challenging term in and of itself, but determining the shade of meaning that is appropriate to the context can be.

Study materials developed for the Literature SAT Subject Test can be helpful when preparing for the Redesigned SAT since analysis will be much more important than regurgitation. The test will also use real-world documents drawn from various realms of history and culture. You cannot possibly read every important document, but you can browse several from each era so that the language is somewhat familiar to you come exam day.

5. Investigate the essay

Beginning in spring 2016, the essay portion of the SAT will no longer be required for all students. Many schools may still ask test-takers to submit it, but you will need to investigate this on a case-by-case basis. If none of your top-choice colleges ask for it, you may decide to opt against the essay. If you do need to complete the essay, be aware that it, too, is in the midst of a transformation. Specifically, you will now be asked to provide a critical evaluation of a provided passage, rather than your own free-form response to an open-ended topic. Critical analysis is a very different technique to wield, but the skills you learn while preparing for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing will stand you in good stead.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

TIME Education

See the Best Advice Given to 2015 Graduates in Under 3 Minutes

From Michelle Obama, George W. Bush and more

Commencement speeches are chock full of inspiring words, delivered to students as they prepared for life in the real world. This year’s speeches were no different.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Tufts University class of 2015 that their graduation day was one of their most important life milestones. The others, she said, are “birth, death, marriage, and the day you pay off your student loans.” First Lady Michelle Obama told Tuskegee University’s graduating class to stay true to “the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves.” And former President George W. Bush reminded the “C” students of Southern Methodist University that they, too, could one day become President.

These quirky quips are some of many gems thought leaders have dropped on graduating classes this commencement season. Watch the video above for more motivating words to graduating scholars.

Read more: 4 Commencement Speeches to Get You Through the Week

Read more: President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

TIME Education

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Joyce Carol Oates gave this commencement speech at Niagara County Community College

Greetings and congratulations to the Class of 2015 of NCCC on this festive commencement morning, and to President Klyczek, trustees, administrators and faculty of the college; and to the parents, families, and friends of the graduates. This is a luminous occasion which you will long remember with that bittersweet tinge of emotion that is called “nostalgia”—the recollection of something memorable and poignant that happened to you, usually in the company of persons whom you love and revere.

It is particularly memorable and poignant to me to be honored here today since I was born in (nearby) Lockport, and grew up on a small farm in (nearby) Millersport; I attended John E. Pound Elementary School and North Park Junior High School, in Lockport; and I have, from the start of my life as a writer, set most of my novels and short stories in places virtually identical to the places of my childhood. Indeed, there is usually a signature canal or “creek” in work of fiction of mine. (Our farmhouse was close by the Tonawanda Creek, and we lived not far from the Erie Barge Canal.)

When I was invited back to Lockport in November 2009—(some fifty years after having left!)—I gave a talk titled “My Kind of Town: Lockport, NY” (subsequently published in Smithsonian Magazine, and in my essay collection In Rough Country: Essays & Reviews, 2010). I could not resist telling the audience—in the Palace Theatre—that I hoped that this would become a custom, and I will be invited back again to Lockport in another fifty years.

In any case, at the conclusion of my presentation there were questions from the audience—most of them quite reasonable and answerable—but two questions stopped me in my tracks. The first question was “Do you think that there is a teleological purpose to the Universe, and do you think that there is an afterlife?” (Given that these are the most profound questions in the history of philosophy, it did not seem to me likely that they would be answered that evening in the Palace Theatre in Lockport, N.Y.) The second question was “Do you think that you would be the writer you are today if you had had a middle-class or wealthy background and without Lockport and Millersport in your life?”

This profound question left me groping for words. For the answer is—of course—I would not be the writer I am, the person I am, without my background—it is not an exaggeration to say that “I owe everything to this specific background and cannot think of an alternative life”– as rich with material—as warmly supportive and stimulating—family, teachers, friends—community; and especially, for it is very close to my heart, the Lockport Public Library that was a place of refuge, an oasis of civility, a treasure trove presided over by friendly librarians, for a girl who grew up in a rural household in which there were virtually no books. As I was to be the first person in my family to attend school beyond eighth grade—(let alone graduate from high school!)—the role of the beautiful, welcoming library on Main Street, Lockport cannot be overstated.

For this reason I urge you, the Class of 2015, to consider the unique cultural heritage that has helped shape you. As graduates of NCCC, you might revisit the college when you can—check in with former instructors—perhaps take courses here—those exciting courses (in the arts?) you could not fit into your schedule when you were a student. And if you can, contribute to the college—no matter how modestly, it will be appreciated. You are not isolated, singular individuals but members of a community united by common goals. Your instructors, like your parents and families, are the wellsprings of your career. Don’t hesitate to express gratitude!

On this celebratory occasion it is also well to consider that you, the Class of 2015, share with your contemporaries across the country who are graduating this spring a common experience of coming of age in a morally schizoid time. By “schizoid” I mean that there is a profound break between the “public” and the “private” life for most of us. A good number of us no longer feel that we exercise much power in our “democracy.” Those of us who are teachers expect our students to be unfailingly honest in their work, never to plagiarize or cheat, yet, virtually every day, we learn that many of our fellow Americans, our presumed “leaders” in the political and corporate worlds, are exposed as dishonest, guilty of fraud, embezzlement, bribe-taking, plundering of entire companies, debasing the environment, callous indifference to vulnerable fellow citizens, exploitation of young persons… Yet: there is the hope that a younger generation has the opportunity to redeem the short-sightedness and criminal behavior of their elders, and will have the strength and the idealism to do so.

It was a Princeton student of mine who said “this is a schizoid time”—a senior English and Philosophy major—“We’re signing up for job interviews, writing letters, applying for jobs and graduate school… With the ‘war on terror,’ global warming, political crises, a precarious economy, it seems so trivial and yet—this is our lives.”

This seemed to me eloquently and aptly stated: “This is our lives.” For this is the great adventure before you: establishing the personal, moral, intellectual, spiritual life in a morally “schizoid” time. Seeking a place in the world, in the “job market” or in graduate and professional schools is one of the great adventures. Placing yourself—being, in one way or another ‘chosen’—requires stoical qualities. A sense of humor is definitely a good idea. Writers quickly learn that the most wretched experiences in life can make the most entertaining anecdotes and, as memoirists have discovered, can be spun to epic lengths. A sense of proportion is recommended: we can’t all be “first.” (Conversely, it is an optimistic observation to realize: we can’t all be “last.”) Graduating classes contain numerous individuals who, for one reason or another, did not fulfill their promise and potential, if not to others, to themselves. There is a small, quirky category of individual who, though rewarded, still don’t feel that they have really worked hard enough, that their potential has been realized. Few writers of distinction, in fact, were outstanding as undergraduates: William Faulkner received a D in freshman English, at the University of Mississippi; Cormac McCarthy was asked to leave the University of Tennessee because his grades were so poor; John Cheever was expelled from the Thayer Academy, and spent years in poverty writing fiction before he began to be published in the New Yorker. We need to know that others have had as difficult a time as we are having—if not a worse time. America is a wonderful country in which to live but its media focus upon winners—stars—celebrities—champions—is unrealistic and does not prepare us for living in the actual world.

Several years ago I learned that a writer-friend of mine (who has since won the Pulitzer prize and other distinctions) had been severely disheartened by a famous New York editor’s rejection of a novel he had worked on for years: “You’re wasting your life,” he was told. But Richard kept working, revising and submitting the novel elsewhere, until at last it found a sympathetic editor and was published—and turned out to be the novel that won him his first acclaim. (His next novel would win the Pulitzer prize.)

Is much of success simply luck? Granted some talent, some motivation, and a willingness to keep trying beyond the point where others give up.

Stephen King, our American prodigy, whom you have all read, is now one of the great bestsellers in history, perhaps in the history of the Universe. You might be surprised to know that in his early twenties Stephen King was a struggling high school teacher in Maine who was humiliated because he didn’t make enough money to support his family and had to supplement his income by working at menial, disagreeable jobs—a slaughterhouse, for instance—(luckily, being Stephen King, the young writer found such occupations fruitful as material). He had written more than sixty stories which made the rounds of magazines and were rejected. He’d written four novels, all of which were rejected. The fourth, Carrie, he tossed out in the trash in a fit of despair but—(here is the fairy tale reversal)—his wife Tabitha King, who, when the two were undergraduates at the University of Maine and were taking writing workshops together, was considered THE writer of the two—retrieved the manuscript from the trash, and sent it out herself to another publisher; this time, it was accepted, and published rather inauspiciously; but made its way at once with the reading public, and became a surprise bestseller; eventually, a very successful movie. What if, like a reasonable person, Stephen King had given up writing after the rejection of sixty stories and four novels?

Similarly, my friend Eleanor Bergstein who’d written a film script titled Dirty Dancing was rejected for years by virtually everyone in male-dominated Hollywood; yet Eleanor persevered, with the stubborn intensity borne out of a conviction that her autobiographical story would have value for others, until finally a “low budget” film was made of the script; given little support by the (male) producers until the first audiences began to react with much enthusiasm—and the rest is history. (Dirty Dancing has become one of those very few cult films with an enormous popular following. There are allegedly persons who have seen the film dozens—even hundreds—of times.)

I have taught creative writing and literature at Princeton University since 1978. As a teacher, I am often asked: Did you recognize your “talented” students immediately? What was it like to work with—(here they name the several students who did senior theses with me, who’ve gone on to publish books and become, in some quarters at least, “acclaimed).

The answer I give is unexpected, I think—it’s that I don’t focus my teacherly attention upon my ‘talented’ students particularly—I work with all my students equally. As a teacher, I think that part of my role is to try to provide for the student possibly “less talented” a way in which he or she might actually be revealed as “talented.” By this I mean that I rarely try to “strengthen” a writing student’s “weakness”—(we all have “weaknesses,” we all have areas in which we can’t begin to compete–and this includes great writers like Hemingway, Jane Austen, James Joyce); we don’t have time to “improve” our weaknesses, we have time only to concentrate upon our strengths. What you do well—you must learn to do better. And when you do this better—you must learn to do it even better. That is the way—that is the only way—to excel at anything.

Individuals who are writers and artists are confronted with the question: should I continue, if I am rejected? How long should I continue? Should I give up—ever? Teachers will acknowledge how often it happens that a student who hasn’t perhaps been the most brilliant, or the most forceful, or the most prominent in a class, will turn out, years later, to be the “best known”—the “most successful.” Too often it has happened, in my experience, that quite talented students just—faded from sight; they tried, they were (presumably) rejected, they gave up. Why did they give up, and why did others seemingly very like them not give up? This is the perennial mystery!

Energy—industry—refusal to be discouraged—a prevailing sense of humor: these are essential in our lives. An attitude that goes beyond ambition into the realm of the spiritual, the uncharitable; what in boxing, as perhaps in other sports, is called “heart”—the indefinable core of an individual that declares I WILL NOT GIVE UP; I WILL PERSEVERE. Without “heart” an athlete might have a professional career but he/she cannot be a great champion. The writing students of mine who have gone on to be truly successful, in several cases quite impressive careers, were individuals who worked—worked—worked—and did not allow rejections to dissuade them of their inner worth.

This stubborn optimism, this predilection for trying one more time, I bequeath to the graduates of the Class of 2015—in fact, to us all.

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME Education

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jon Bon Jovi gave this commencement speech at Rutgers University—Camden

Good morning, Mayor Redd, President Barchi, Chancellor Haddon, Governors, trustees, alumni, family, friends, and especially — a very good morning to the 2015 graduating class of Rutgers University—Camden.

Thank you for inviting me here today on one of the most special days of your life — so far — and thank you very much for this honor.

Although you have allowed me to wear this cap and gown, you have done me no favors having me speak after one of our country’s heroes for justice, Bryan Stevenson — thank you, Bryan, for all that you do.

I feel like they may have gotten the opening act and the headliner mixed up.

I’ve been wrestling over what information I could offer that you haven’t already heard. Something that can be a reminder of where you came from and a sign to comfort you on the road ahead.

At first I shared too little, then I shared far too much.

As I edited my thoughts, I realized I’m sure lucky there was no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram when I was your age.

I’m keeping those chapters up here. Sorry!

But I was reminded of a few things I’d like to share.

14 years ago, I gave a commencement speech at another New Jersey school. Through the magic of Google search, I was able to have a “back to the future moment,” looking back on my words to see if any of what I said to the class of 2001 stands up today.

Those words started out innocently enough talking about new beginnings — from kindergarten to high school to college.

You can’t remember what you had for breakfast yesterday — but I’m sure you can remember the multitude of emotions that were running through you during those formative years. From sheer joy to anticipation to absolute fear. And then in a snap of a finger it’s all just memories in a scrapbook.

Our future starts in our past — but it doesn’t end there.

In that speech I said to treat the workplace like school, and keep learning. Be humble, remain humble and remind yourself that no job is beneath you if you use it as a lesson.

Maybe you’ve mapped your life out. A corner office at a Fortune 500 company or a life in philanthropy, politics or even entertainment. Great! I say, “Go for it.” But if you haven’t — that’s ok too. Don’t be embarrassed by indecision.

Life is a long, bumpy road, but that makes for an exciting ride. Choose a direction and if the road turns — turn! If there is a fork in the road – take it! It’s ok to map out your future — but do it in pencil.

Continuing with the new beginning and planning in pencil theme — 2003 led me to a new chapter in my life and my fork in the road that brings me here today.

In 2003 I became co-owner of an arena football team in Philadelphia — talk about bumpy roads, lessons learned, humility and then divine intervention.

Ok, see if you can follow this:

Rockstar loves football, hears about an opportunity to own an arena team, laughs with his bandmates about calling plays in the owners box. Then calls are made on his behalf to pursue the team. Band sobers up and backs out, singer doesn’t! He finds a partner, they start an expansion team, the Philadelphia Soul. In its first 5 years, it’s the league’s most popular team, they win a championship for Philly.

We approach this team differently. We use lessons learned in our “other lives” to put together a winning team on the field, but also to have impact off the field. We make it an affordable, accessible, family affair and proudly announce that we intend to become the most philanthropic team in town.

Before the Soul played a down, we found four needy charities and gave away more money than we brought in. We were having fun playing football and Robin Hood!

Then one bitter cold night in 2006 while I was staying in Philly, I looked out my window and saw a man sleeping outside—huddled up hoping to make it through the night. I decided we should focus our philanthropic efforts on homelessness! This issue could affect anyone — young, old; black, white; republican or democrat. I didn’t need a scientist to find the cure; I needed someone to help me help those in need.

I asked a close friend to find me someone who was both passionate and compassionate, an authority on the homeless issue. He found Sister Mary Scullion and that’s how the rockstar who had the new beginnings, the bumpy ride, and the pencil came to write the words, “the power of we.”

You. Me. That’s the power of we. “We” can be that change we want to see. I met Sister Mary and her already well-established team at project home, we joined forces, and nearly a decade later, we continue to address the needs of those in need through the power of we.

We may have lost money, but we won on and off the field. Remember when life brings challenges — it also brings opportunity!

From rockstar, to team owner to foundation chairman. They’re all just mile markers along the way.

That’s the power of we. No one is an island. No one can do it alone. Not government alone, not the private sector alone. It takes great partners like Mayor Redd, and Chief Thompson. It takes great partnerships like heart of Camden, the St. Joseph Carpenter Society, and Hopeworks ‘n Camden. It takes everyone from nuns to rockstars.

And it takes you! But you know that, because you’ve seen it. You’ve done it. For me the issue of hunger and homelessness feels right. For you — it may be something else. Find that something you can be passionate about and start the ripple. Be that change! That’s what you do, that’s what you have done.

When called upon, your class harnessed change and made it work for justice.

You could have easily used technology to relax and play video games. But your class used it to map this community to make sure services got to people who need them.

You could have used your knowledge to manipulate others with less, but you used it to come together and reopen Cooper Park.

You could have used your time for you. But instead, over the course of one school year, you, the students of Rutgers-Camden did almost 35 years’ worth of community service.

That, too, is the power of we.

Embracing “we” doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to lead. This world needs its young people to lead and to lead by example. To walk the walk, and do the work. Confound expectations. Inspire others! Don’t let anyone define who you are and what you can be. It’s not always going to be easy. Life is not a reality show. That’s the reality.

Look — you, me — we are New Jersey. Here it’s all about we: in this state, we can’t even pump gas by ourselves.

And here in this state, we’ve got the parkway, we’ve got the turnpike. we’ve got mile markers. Here, people say, “What exit are you from?”

Your diploma is a mile marker. It’s a measurement of how far you’ve come, but it doesn’t say a thing about how far you can go.

Your diploma is an anointment / a calling / a charge, to use the talents you’ve nurtured and the knowledge you’ve gained here — to make a contribution.

Class is over, learning isn’t. Your diploma is a key — to open doors of possibility not only for yourselves, but for others.

So if you want the amazing feeling of pride you’re feeling to last far beyond today — let’s make today and every day that follows about more than your own accomplishment. Make it about the power of we! Because, if you do, you’ll have a lot more than “things worth having”— you’ll have “a life worth living.”

And you can write that one down in pen.

Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2015!

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME Education

What Educators Can Learn About a Southeast L.A. Turnaround

close-up-hand-taking-notes
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The addition of a bold college readiness program transformed a struggling high school into an example of high academic achievement

Bell Gardens High School in east Los Angeles County was a sorry mess when science teacher Liz Lowe arrived in 1989. More than 3,000 students crowded into school buildings surrounding a concrete quadrangle with patches of grass and some trees. Expectations were low. Not much learning was done.

“It hurt my soul that here were these wonderful students who were very, very capable, but they were expected to be the working poor,” Lowe recalled.

Today, that community is still poor and ethnically isolated. Bell Gardens High has a student body that is 99 percent Latino. According to the 2010 census, the education level of its students’ parents was the lowest of any community of similar size in the state. The median household annual income was slightly more than $30,000.

Yet something unexpected has happened to the level of learning at the school. Bell Gardens High’s Academic Performance Index score, the 1,000-point scale that was used by California to measure test score success, has gone from 469 in 1999 to 704 in 2013 (the latest reported year). The school was ranked in the top 7 percent of all U.S. schools on the 2015 America’s Most Challenging High Schools list, a measure of college-level test participation I put out each year for The Washington Post.

Bell Gardens educators and parents agree that a program called AVID, short for Advancement Via Individual Determination, has much to do with the transformation.

Non-profit AVID (pronounced like the word that means “eager”) is the largest college readiness program in the country. Its success has much to do with unusually effective teacher training and a tutoring system that goes deeper than any I have ever seen.

AVID began in 1980 when Mary Catherine Swanson, the head of the English department at Clairemont High School in northern San Diego, decided to experiment with 32 low-income students coming to her suburban school as part of a busing program. Many teachers at her school said those Latino and black children should be put in remedial classes, but Swanson felt that if they were placed in a daily class that taught study skills and time management and provided tutoring, they could eventually handle even college-level Advanced Placement classes.

As Bell Gardens learned, the program was not easy. AVID classes demanded that students keep their work in order and, even more shocking to American teenagers, required that they learn how to take notes properly and do so in all of their courses. The tutoring was even more of a challenge.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, tutors, usually college students, would arrive to help students with homework questions that stumped them. The tutors did not follow the usual practice of telling tutees where they went wrong. Instead they trained the students to ask questions of whomever was discussing a particular difficulty, to help think through the problem. It took weeks, sometimes months, to get the hang of it.

Lowe, now the AVID coordinator at Bell Gardens, in 1994 was the first teacher at the school to get the one-week AVID training course. But it took three years for Bell Gardens to start its program. Juan Herrera, now the school’s principal, was then the school’s state and federal project director. He was very taken with the AVID emphasis on recruiting average low-income students. His father had been a janitor, his mother a seamstress. Kids like him tended to be left out, he thought, even though they would have benefited from an extra push.

State and district backing for the program has been helpful. Bell Gardens has about $115,000 for tutors this year. Its AVID program grew from 29 ninth graders in 1997 to 566 students, about 16 percent of the total school enrollment this year. It became so successful maintaining standards that it achieved National Demonstration School status, a designation given to only two percent of AVID schools.

Mario Martin del Campo, a former Bell Garden AVID student who became an AVID tutor, said he noticed at California State University, Northridge, where he was an English major, that students without AVID experience often gave up. They’d just say, “I don’t get it.” By contrast, del Campo said, his reaction to a difficult college assignment would be “I don’t know how to do it but I’m going to try it and see how far I get.”

The AVID classes make Bell Gardens High School a very different place from what it was in 1989. Educators like Lowe and Herrera think more schools stuck in poverty could make the same transition, if they are willing to fight for the money and make it extremely difficult for their kids to give up on themselves.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post columnist, is the author of Question Everything: The Rise of AVID as America’s Largest College Readiness Program. He wrote this for “Reimagining California,” a partnership of the California Endowment and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Gadgets

Ultra-Cheap Chromebook Laptops Are Killing it This Year

Inside The Google Chromebook Store
Bloomberg via Getty Images An employee demonstrates a Samsung Electronics Co. Chromebook laptop in the Google Inc. sales area at a Currys and PC World 2 in 1 store, operated by Dixons Retail Plc, on Tottenham Court Road in London, U.K.

The Google devices even managed to beat out the iPad in one category

Google’s line of Internet-dependent Chromebooks are increasingly growing out of their niche market. The laptops are expected to sell 7.3 million units this year, according to research firm Gartner. That’s a 27% increase over 2014. North America remains the largest Chromebook market by far, with six million of this year’s sales expected to come in that region.

Schools in particular have proven a popular market for Google’s computers. Last year the education sector comprised 72% of Chromebook sales, and Google even managed to beat out the iPad in shipments to schools. Chromebooks are considerably cheaper than full-sized iPads, which helps explain their appeal to school administrators.

Businesses, meanwhile, haven’t embraced the laptops as much. In the U.S., only about 1% of Chromebook sales come from the business sector, according to Gartner. Chromebooks generally have little internal storage, instead encouraging users to save content to the cloud. They also can’t run the desktop version of Microsoft Office, a staple of workplaces everywhere.

TIME Education

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bernard Harris gave this commencement speech at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Well, thank you so much. Laurie, thank you for that degree. Trustees, since I’ve been a trustee of the university, thank you for voting for me. Really appreciate that.

Let me also thank the graduates for letting me have the opportunity to be your commencement speaker. And lastly, in the thanks I’m going to give, I want to give a shout out to my sweetheart. I actually got that word from Laurie last night when we had dinner and I like that. So my sweetheart just came here this morning. Valerie, thank you for being here in this special occasion, appreciate it.

To the graduates of 2015, I will just simply say that I’m very proud of you. I know that your parents are proud of you. The family that’s here are proud of you and let’s all of us give them a hand for this wonderful day.

You know, as I look out among you, it really confirms a couple things that I believe and that is that there are no limits to human ingenuity or to human achievement. And the other is that we are infinite beings with infinite possibilities, all of you. And it is through that lens that I have really lived my life in fact and what I’d like to do is share with you some pieces of that life. And maybe answer that question in sharing my adventure, what it’s like to travel in space, because I know a lot of you see an astronaut, you’d want to know that. So I want to share that with you, but also some lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

And that first lesson goes like this— that dreams are your reality of the future. Now, how did I come about this? You already heard that I grew up on the Navajo Nation many years ago and I actually started out in Houston, Texas, in a very poor community. I came from a broken home.

There was a lot of struggles that I won’t go into, but fortunately my mother who was an educator got us out of that environment and took this to a land of grand canyons and painted deserts where I could now get out of that restrictive environment and now be in this environment where I could be free, where I could discover what my dreams and what my ambitions are. I also during that period discovered my talents. I discovered that I liked science and as you’ve heard in my introduction, you know that I like space science. You also know that I like Star Trek. Do we have any Star Trek fans out here? Yeah.

And so I discovered very early what those talents are, and this is an important lesson though I think— and you probably have done this already because you’re graduating today— and that is to spend the time with yourself to figure out what are those things that I do well. What are my innate abilities? And I was lucky enough to discover that.

One of the other things I discovered is that I like exploring and so my friends and I would take off in the mountains and we would go over the first hill, then go down in the valley, and go over the next hill, just to figure out what was out there. It’s kind of funny that Valerie teases me today because when we go to different places, the first thing I want to do, of course, is to go exploring. Well, that started very early in my life. I also learned in my life that I needed to raise my expectations.

And let me share with you how this came about. We would come back to Houston during the summers to visit our family and then stayed with my aunt in Houston, Texas. And my best friend was a guy by the name of Clevert Johnson and we would sit out on the curve— and I was about probably 11 years older so when this was happening— and we would just sort of dream. We’d sort of talk about our ambitions, what we wanted to do, what we would become.

And I remember one day we had this discussion about money, because one of things that Clevert said he wanted to do is that he wanted to become rich. And I said, wow, you know what? I never thought about that. So do I. So then he asked me, well, what do you think is a lot of money? And so I said, man, if I had $100,000, that’s a lot of money.”

And he looked at me and said, $100,000? See, I have to remind you this is way back in the ’60s where if you were a millionaire, you actually had— you would live in a house that was worth $100,000, so that was a lot of money to me. He says, man, you’re thinking too small. I said, well, what do you think is a lot of money? He says, $10 million, or $100 million.

And I had never— you know, coming from my background, even considered that amount of money. And I remember leaving that afternoon, kind of thinking back and saying to myself, wow, I really have low expectations. I need to raise my expectations. So the lesson I want to pass on is that you need to raise your expectations of yourself.

So I know that you have certain expectations, your family has certain expectations of you, but it’s important those expectations actually come from you. And speaking of expectations, I want to remind you, don’t let or don’t build your life around the expectations of others. So be careful with that, because I know that some of you in this room have graduated with this degree today because your parents encouraged you to go into engineering or encouraged you to go in whatever field that you’ve chosen. I’m speaking to those young people. Figure out with this degree, with this foundation that you have what it is that you really want to do.

Remember that it’s about passion and discovering your passion in life. And that’s most important. The second thing I want to share with you is— and I should answer this question of not only how did I make that transition for Star Trek to actually space— is that when I was 13 years old, I followed the early Space Program. I watched the U.S. and the Russians kind of battle each other to see who was going to get the moon first.

And I remember on that glorious day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. And when they landed on the moon, it was an amazing thing for me to see. For the first time, human beings had left this planet and gone to another planet called the moon. Of course the moon is simply a planet locked into the earth’s gravity, and when I saw that, I knew what I wanted to do. I found my passion.

And so I set off on this course of trying to discover how I would get there. I realized when I started doing my research— I remember research, back in the day, required that I go to a library and not go to Google. And so I also learned a lot about the Space Program from the newspapers and magazines of the day. And what I discovered is that I couldn’t come to a college like WPI and major in being an astronaut, that I had to choose a field.

And so because I figured out what my talents and abilities were early on— one of the other things I was drawn to of course was medicine— and I found out that there were physicians who worked in the Space Program. And with that, this deal, my idea, my dreams were set. And so I went off to college.

You’ve heard the education that I had, and then eventually after I finished Mayo Clinic and I ended up at NASA Ames Research Center where I worked on my fellowship. And now with all of that education background, I figured now it’s time for me to turn toward my dreams. And so I applied to the Astronaut Corp in 1987 and I got an invitation to come down there. I interviewed. I spent a week going through that whole process.

I came back feeling really good about myself, that you know what? Everything I’ve worked on to this at this point is going to lead to me becoming an astronaut. And so I waited around for a couple months, sweating— kind of like you probably have in the last week or so, making sure that you have all of your grades in line to graduate today. So I got that call. And that call was not a victory call but it was a disappointing call.

So they said, Bernard, we liked you. The interviewers thought highly of you. But we’re not going to select you this year. And I have to tell you I was devastated. And I remember sitting back after I cried like a baby, sat back and wondered, what am I going to do? I have two options.

Option number one was to accept their verdict that I was not astronaut material and caliber and just give up on my dream, or option two was to say, OK, they didn’t select me this time. So maybe I can find a way to increase my skills and my abilities and get more visibility so that they would accept me the next time. And that’s exactly what I did. In 1990, they had another astronaut class and I applied. And I was the first one selected to interview. I was the first one that was selected in my class of 23 as you heard about.

So that little story or vignette reminds me to remind you that sometimes failure is an option. I’m sure that you’ve heard NASA and the call from Apollo 13 when they say, failure is not an option. Well, sometimes failure is an option. Why do I say that? Because that failure allowed me to reassess myself, allowed me to go back and get those skills that were necessary so that I would be more presentable the next time.

It allowed me to in fact grow. I believe that you shouldn’t let failure define you, but instead you should let failure refine you. And that’s exactly what I did. And sometimes as a reminder to you that our greatest growth comes when we fail.

So you’re going to be released today after you graduate. You’re going to hit the real world. You’re thinking right now that, you know, I’ve got a degree from WPI and nothing can stop me— and I want you to go out there with that expectation— but you’re going to have failure. And you’ve got to be able to deal with that.

So I dealt with that. I was in the 13th class of the astronaut office. I went through two years of basic training, and then got selected for my first mission in 1993, my second mission in 1995, and it was a glorious, glorious time to be at NASA. Shuttles were flying on time, during that time. It was just unusual these days.

And what I’d like to do now is share with you what it’s like to travel in space. You guys ready to go? That didn’t sound very convincing to me. Are you ready to go?

So the first thing I want to remind you of is the shuttle. Right now— and let me back up and explain a couple things, because when people come and they talk to me, they always said, “God, I’m sorry that the Space Program is no longer— you know, we no longer have the Space Program.” Guess what, we still have the Space Program. The only thing that’s happened is that we’ve taken the Shuttle Program and we’ve handed that over to private industry. And now private industry is building the next generation shuttle.

But what I flew was a shuttle— Columbia and Discovery— and it was a remarkable vehicle. That vehicle weighs 5 million pounds. In order to get that 5 million pounds in the air, we have to find engines that produce a thrust of 7.5 million pounds. And I’m here to tell you this afternoon that when those engines light, you are leaving this planet, and nothing’s going to hold you to it. Immediately when they fire, you get pushed back in your seat about two times your weight.

Within about 30 seconds or so, we’re clearing the launch tower and we’re approaching the speed of sound, 750 miles per hour. Within two minutes of lift-off, we reach an altitude of 100,000 feet above the ground, about three times higher than most aircraft fly, and at that point we’re going a mere 2,500 miles an hour. And over the next 6.5 minutes we’ll go from 2,500 miles an hour to 5,000 to 10,000 to 15,000 and eventually to 17,500 miles an hour.

Now you might want to know what we’re doing on the inside besides screaming like babies. It’s very rocky. It’s very noisy. You can’t even talk to the person next to as you get pushed back in your seat and you can’t even lift your arm. In fact I remembered— I have all these funny stories.

I know you don’t want to hear me talk too long, but let me kind of share with you one of those stories. On one of my missions— actually it was the first mission— on lift-off just to give you experience of what it’s like on the inside. So we’re in this suit. The suit weighs about 120 pounds.

We’re under this 3.5 G force and I remember we were about 6 minutes into the flight and I went from thinking about what I wanted to do and wanted to prepare— you know, what I need to do in case something was wrong– to looking, recognizing my legs were hurting. I was going, why are my legs hurting? So under this acceleration because I have long legs— you saw that I had to dip down so they could put the rope on me here— my legs were being spread apart by the acceleration. So every now and then my legs would drift apart like this and suddenly I’d have to pull them back together. And then my legs would lift again and I’d have to pull them back together. By the time I got up to orbit, I was exhausted.

Why? Because if I had let that continue to go out, I would’ve been embarrassed because the last thing I wanted to do when the Mission Control in Houston wanted me to report in was to say, Houston we’re OK. So— I fixed that problem the next mission. I had our NASA engineers design a Velcro strap and when the technicians put me in my seat and buckled me up, I strapped my knees together and I was able to focus on that next ride.

So just quickly— so you’re in the spacecraft, being pushed back 3.5 G’s, very heavy, very noisy. And once you make it to orbit, the main engines cut off. You go from all of that experience to zero gravity, just like that. And you know you’re in space because everything begins to float.

And it was amazing as I got out of my seat and I saw the checklist float over, and I took my glove off— my glove came off and it floated over in one direction. I took the other one and I threw it at my neighbor, just for effect and all that. I was finally in space and accomplished my dreams.

You know as an astronaut, we do a lot of experiments up in space. I got a chance on my first mission to do over 91 different investigations, on my second one about 45 different investigations. Got a chance to go to the Mir space station, and probably the most remarkable thing I got a chance to do was to do the space walk. This time I donned a suit that weighed 350 pounds, opened a hatch, and walked outside.

Now doing a space walk these days is really a misnomer, right, in the sense that we are not going to any planets. We’re simply going to either the space station or working right around the vehicle that we’re in orbit with. And so as I open up the hatch and pull myself out, it was a wonderful experience. I pulled myself along the side of the vehicle until I got into the robotic arm, then I got lifted up on the robotic arm about 35 feet above the payload bay and there I had a wonderful view, the view of my crew members down below.

I would wave back at them as they waved at me through the window. Behind that was this big blue ball of a planet called planet Earth with this blue water and these white swirls of clouds. It was beautiful. And behind that, of course, was a sea of stars called the Milky Way.

And I remember after we had done all of our tasks, I was just hanging out— because we had completed everything— and just taking it all in. And I remember feeling this small, in the sense that here I was in this spaceship, going around the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour— and did I fail to mention that at 17,500 miles an hour, we’d go around the world every 90 minutes? We’d get to see a sunset or sunrise every 45 minutes. It’s pretty awesome to be up there.

So during the quiet time I took it all in and felt this big. Because, think about this— the spaceship is just skirting right across the atmosphere. And if there was an alien ship that came by to try to find us, they probably couldn’t locate us because we’d just be a speck on the horizon there.

But suddenly I went from being this small person to being larger than life, with this realization that I was doing something very few people had done before. That I was one of about 350 people who’ve ever gone in space, that I was one of about 70 people that had ever done a space walk. And that I was about 1 in 15 of us who were African-American. And on that mission, I became the first African-American to walk in space. Why? Because of a dream that I had as a kid.

I tell that story to remind me, to remind you how important you are and can be. And so I always share that story with young people. You heard that I have a foundation and our foundation supports K through 12 education programs all over this country, including here. And one of the things that I like to do with the elementary school kids and the middle school, high school kids is to have them repeat a phrase that I think is a very important phrase. It’s that one that I mentioned early on, about being an infinite being with infinite possibilities.

And so I would like you to do that. How about that? So I want you to repeat after me if you would. You ready? And just the graduates. The rest of you, you don’t count. At least not today.

So repeat after me— I am an infinite being—

I am an infinite being—

—with infinite possibilities.

—with infinite possibilities.

Now, let me kind of show you how that sounded. It sounded like this— I’m an infinite being with infinite possibilities. Oh, God, is he going to ask me to do that again?

Guess what? I’m not only going to ask you to do that again, but I’m going to ask all the graduates of 2015 to stand up. All right, you ready? Now, I want to rock this tent, so let’s rock this tent. Show me what you got.

I am an infinite being—

I am an infinite being—

—with infinite possibilities.

—with infinite possibilities.

So let me tell you what that means. It means that each and every one of you graduates and everybody in this room in attendance today was born multi-potential with the ability to do anything that you want to do in life. It also means that each and every one of you in this room was born multi-talented, meaning that you were born with certain talents and certain skills that are uniquely yours. And of course you can use something else called the brain, which you have done the last four years or five years or six years for some of you. No. And develop other skills that are going to take you further.

And lastly, and I think this is the most important point about being an infinite being with infinite possibilities is that each and every one of you in this room was born for a reason. There is something special that you are supposed to do. And some of you even more than just one, so it’s up to you to figure out what that is. And now you can be seated.

One of my favorite— let’s give them a hand. And in closing, one of my favorite authors is a guy by the name of Emmet Fox. And he says that our heart’s desire is the voice of God and that voice must be obeyed sooner or later. So my charge to you is to go out after this day and find that voice. And I can tell you this, if you find that voice and if you invest the time and the effort that it takes to fulfill that voice, that dream, that ambition that you have, you will change the world. I have no doubt about it.

And you will not only be able to change the world for yourself and change the world for the community around you, but you will make a difference in this world as we know it. I want to thank you so much for letting me be your commencement speaker. I want to thank your parents for being here and helping to support this and congratulations and God bless you all.

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME Education

Survey: U.S. Schools Beef Up Safety Measures

Public school security statistics
K.vineys—AP Public school security statistics

The U.S. saw an overall decrease in violent crime reported by schools in the last four years

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. public schools beefed up security measures with safety drills and parent notification systems in the years surrounding the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to a government survey released Thursday.

The uptick came during a four-year span that saw an overall decrease in violent crime reported by schools, but one that included high-profile incidents such as the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings in December 2012 that left 20 children and six educators dead.

The findings, from the 2013-14 school year, come from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The survey found that 88 percent of public schools had a written plan of how to respond to an active shooter, and that 7 out of 10 had drills to practice the plan. About three-quarters of schools reported using security cameras, and 43 percent said they used security personnel at least once a week.

Even before the Newtown killings, schools had been working more closely with local law enforcement and ramping up other school security measures, said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center.

“I think something like Sandy Hook certainly punctuates the need to engage additional security strategies, but I really see it as an ongoing trend,” he said.

Stephens said he believes the work has been a factor in a decrease in overall school crime.

The survey showed 65 percent of public schools reporting one violent incident in school, such as a rape, fight, robbery or threat of physical attack. That’s down from 74 percent in the 2009-10 school year, when the survey was last administered.

The findings were based on a survey sent to school principals. Among the other results:

—About 8 in 10 schools reported having a parent notification system that automatically notifies parents in case of an emergency, compared with about 6 in 10 four years earlier.

—Slightly less than half — 47 percent — of schools reported having a system that allowed someone to report a crime anonymously, compared with 36 percent four years earlier.

Despite the reported decreases in violent school crime, Ken Trump, a school safety consultant, said personnel in the schools he has visited don’t have a sense that the number of incidents is going down.

“We’re hearing people saying we’re having a lot more problems with aggressive kids and such,” Trump said.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com