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Communications and Marketing

‘Great Teacher’ Judy Dozier gives stirring speech at Senior Honors Convocation

The Class of 2018 honored retiring Associate Professor of English Judy Dozier with the Great Teacher Award for 2018 during Senior Honors Convocation held May 11 at First Presbyterian Church.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Great Teacher Award in which the Senior Class votes for a faculty member who they think challenges students both in and out of the classroom and serves as an example of what “great teaching” means to them. Dean of Faculty Michael Orr notes that Dozier is “especially known for her passion and enthusiasm for teaching, for her willingness to challenge her students intellectually, and for her warm, caring, and compassionate personality.”

Orr also noted in his remarks that since joining the faculty in 1997, Dozier has earned a reputation as one of the College’s most engaging and inspirational teachers and has been regarded as the mainstay of the African American studies program at the College for the past two decades. She has published articles and book chapters, as well as a wide array of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Now, the College eagerly awaits her forthcoming debut novel. Well-revered by those who have had the pleasure of working with her, the graduating seniors felt Dozier was well-deserving of the Great Teacher Award.

“Professor Dozier is so passionate about African American studies, and she really opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world,” said Quinn Hendershot ’18, a psychology major. “She inspired me to do my own investigation and research into understanding the realities of black life in America. I’m incredibly thankful to her for giving me the opportunity to explore this topic with her.” Click here for more student comments.

After receiving the Great Teacher Award, Dozier graced the stage to deliver her address, “I Hope You Dance.”  Here is her speech:

I Hope You Dance

“Good afternoon all. So often I come to this time in the semester that I see as bittersweet. I’m so happy for my students, but sad that I will not see them in my classes anymore. But this time I’m leaving with you, but I find that it’s still bittersweet. Not only will I not have you in my classes, I will not have classes anymore. I will miss you and Lake Forest College. So here I am at the end of my second career–teaching–and my final graduating class has once again chosen me ‘Great Teacher.’ I am so humbled, yet so pleased. You really honor me with this award. 

“As you leave Lake Forest College and head out to graduate school or a job, I’d like to share something. Something to take with you as you continue on your life journey. There’s a big amazing exciting world out there. That is, if you’re brave enough to see it. When was the last time you stood looking at the stars? Or noticed a flower blooming under the snow? Or stared for a long time at that green that is bursting out all over now? Shug, from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, said, ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.’

“I bet many of you haven’t noticed because, well, it’s finals or time to write papers, or study for the GRE or the LSÅT, MCAT. Your thoughts are elsewhere, I know. I want you to hold onto something though, as you venture further out into the world.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’ To be yourself. Who else can I be? What would keep me from being myself, Dr. Dozier, you may ask. Fear of being different. Fear of standing out. Fear of losing your job. So we sit, like wallflowers at a party, and refuse when asked to dance. Because being yourself is a bit like dancing. Throwing your arms in the air and letting go of inhibitions and swirling, moving to your own music. But we sit. Then we go home, safe but remorseful. What might have happened if I’d said yes to myself, you ask yourself. What fancy steps might I have shown the others? How graceful could I have been?

“It’s the same way when we hear someone say something that we know we should disagree with. You know, an ethnic joke that you don’t think is funny, but everyone else is laughing. Should you speak up? What if they don’t like what you say? What if no one agrees? If we remain silent like wallflowers, no one will know we were there. No one will see us. We won’t dance.

“You are a unique individual. All of us are. But we live in a world that would coax us to conform to a sameness which sometimes can make us trip over our dance steps. Yet there are those whose lives show us the beauty of the dance. Kendrick Lamar for example. Do you think had he not danced he would have received the Pulitzer Prize. Had he sat safe and secure in the corner of sameness, hiding his dance steps, would he have been recognized? Not hardly. He danced not knowing who would agree, who would celebrate his movements. But he swirled out on the floor and the rest is history. A Pulitzer Prize to a rapper.   

“Or Jay-Z who dared to dance to a different tune, swirling for the audience he was convinced he had out there. Fans who would love the dance to which only he could make up the moves. Had he sat on the sidelines, safe in the sameness of others, would we still applaud his moves as we do now?

“And what about Dorothy Steel who at 88 decided to take up acting. And when called to play a merchant tribe elder and member of the Wakandan Tribal Council and leader of the Merchant Tribe in the blockbuster film Black Panther, she at first sat on the sidelines, a wallflower, until her grandson convinced her to dance. And at 91 she danced her way into stardom! According to Steel, ‘Life is not just about sitting back. Life is about stepping out.’

“You too have unique dance steps. And oh what a joy to get on the floor and let go. Feel the beauty of your experience motivating your dance. Guitar from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon says, ‘Wanna fly, you got to give up the [stuff] that weighs you down.’ Conformity. Fear. Desire to hide your gifts in case no one celebrates them. Chimamanda Adichie warns of the danger of a single story. The world needs your dance, your voice, your moves. And you are the only one who can fit into your dancing shoes. 

“Your dance may not be played to a huge audience, but there will be those who watch you. And many will be inspired by you, the way my dance has inspired so many of you. Before I taught my first class at LFC, I mentioned to Rick Mallette who hired me, that I was nervous. He said, “Be yourself,” and it was the best advice I could have been given. So I have danced alone and in my classes you have tried to follow my steps. We have at times swirled together, matching our movements and grooving together. My steps have become surer because you played my music. So I urge you. As you become a part of the world community, take a look at a garden where so many various flowers and plants reside alongside each other, each with its own beauty, each blooming to its own dance. All while co-existing with one another. Be like nature. Do you. 

“When you think of Dr. Dozier, know that wherever I am, I’ll be dancing. And hoping that I will see you out on the dance floor of life.  As the song says, ‘When you get the chance to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance!’

“Congratulations Class of 2018!

“God bless you all.”

—Nina Codell ’20 and Sangjun Hornewer ’20

Great Teacher Award winner for 2018, Associate Professor of English Judy Dozier, delivers the Great Teacher Address, “I Hope You Dance.”