Acceptance Speech of Professor James Kelly

2007 MCCC Distinguished Teaching Award Recipient

May 24, 2007


This year my spring semester culminated in a long and arduous week serving on a search committee with seven of my colleagues from the Arts and Communication division, any one of whom could—indeed should—be standing here instead of me. I don't recall ever being in the midst of such talent, intellect, passion, and commitment. Our charge was to select and recommend for hire a new faculty member in Fine Arts. We interviewed and then witnessed a teaching demonstration from one qualified and talented candidate after another and then engaged in a discussion of the relative merits, strengths, and weaknesses of each. The selection process was not an easy one. During our discussions I was privy to some of the most finely nuanced, insightful, perceptive, and impassioned arguments I have even experienced. As we assessed each candidate, invariably the discussion would evolve inexorably toward the same focal point—"How will this candidate serve our students? How will our students respond to this candidate? Will this candidate translate into the classroom in a way that will relate to our students? Our students, our students, our students became almost a recurring mantra in all of our postinterview deliberations. For me, that's what the week turned out to be about—a vivid demonstration of the passion for teaching and commitment to our students that are emblematic not only of our little enclave of a search committee but of the entire teaching staff at Mercer County Community College. Thank you Kathi Paluscio, Mike Welliver, Monique Simon, Jodi Person, Kyle Stevenson, Michael Glass, and Dean Judy Ehresman for reminding me of why I have always been so proud to be a part of this faculty. Thank you, also, for allowing me the privilege of being your colleague and friend, and for putting up with my sometimes-incorrigible sense of humor. And thank you for your camaraderie and sparkling repartee that made long hours seem like minutes.

To the graduates:  this day is not about Distinguished Teaching Awards, nor is it about Boards of Trustees, or college presidents, or local political luminaries. We are here to honor you. This is you day! Seize it: Embrace it: Celebrate it.

You stand at the threshold of your future—the horizon endless; the possibilities limitless. The late Joseph Campbell, the renowned teacher, scholar, expert of matters of the human psyche, and one of my favorite writers, summed up the secret to a happy and productive life in three simple but profound words: "Follow your bliss." Find that thing, that interest, that activity that makes you feel most alive and pursue it. Pursue it with all the passion, dedication, and commitment to excellence that you can summon from yourself and things will have a tendency to work out. I followed mine, and it led me to a surprising and unforeseen place—Mercer County Community College. I'm so glad it did.

To my music graduates, several of whom are here today—Liz, Steve, Dennis, Jessica, Jim, Zach, and Chris—thank you for allowing me into your lives and for being the sacred reason I wake up each morning and come to work. Thank you for enriching my life.

To my peers—thank you for this particular honor and for the daily honor of being counted among you. We're an awesome team.

There's a woman I know. "The mystery woman," my students call her. "The phantom." They're convinced she doesn't exist. That she's just a figment of my demented imagination. I assure you she does exit. She has been my love, my best friend, my life partner, my inspiration, my wife of 32 years, without whose unflinching support, encouragement, and love I would not have been able to pursue my dreams. I certainly would not be standing here before you today. Kim, thank you. I love you.

It's easy to grow weary amid the whirlwind of work that is a Mercer semester. For periods of time it's just as easy to lose sight of how blessed one is. Then a day like this comes along and the stark, simple, obvious truth hits you in a blinding epiphany: Great wife, great students, great colleagues who turn out to be great friends, great job, great life.

I'm an extraordinarily lucky man. Thank you.