Weekly Columns

The development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has guided the nation back to normalcy. I have enjoyed resuming in-person meetings with Arkansans instead of conducting business over the phone or online platforms, and I have seen the hope and optimism that exists for so many people who have endured a challenging year. There is a lot of promise for the future, particularly as we recognize the accomplishments of students who adapted to the unique circumstances to earn their diplomas.

The Class of 2021 showed unyielding character, resilience and commitment to education which culminated in academic success. It certainly wasn’t easy. We can be proud of the collaboration between parents, students, administrators and teachers that made this memorable school year one that put the needs of kids first. 

We have been blessed by the example of Arkansas’s teachers and their extraordinary work. They learned new skills overnight, overhauled curriculum and reimagined every aspect of their classroom to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Somehow, they also made kids feel safe enough to learn, set an example with their positive attitudes and let students know how important they were, whether in a classroom or on a computer screen. 

As they worked to maintain the academic progress of each child, they also provided a lifeline in an otherwise chaotic time. It is amazing to see the smiles on the faces of children when they see their teachers. Even though nothing was normal, they gave students an escape back to normalcy by being there and continuing to do what they do best – teach.

When we look back at the heroes of this tumultuous time, it is clear that teachers will be among those we honor as our society’s most valuable players.

Throughout history, teachers and coaches have been, and will continue to be, role models. That’s true in my own life. At the University of Arkansas, my football coach Frank Broyles told my teammates and me that “There are two kinds of people in this world – givers and takers. Live your life as a giver.” I’ve carried Coach Broyles’ words with me ever since. They help guide the way I live and serve because I’ve seen what happens when they get put into action and experienced the reward in helping others.

It’s a message I often share with graduates. Subiaco Academy’s Class of 2021 invited me to its commencement exercises in mid-May. For the final assignment of high school, I encouraged them to use what they learned to make a difference. My advice to these students was simple: choose wisely what you point your life at — work, stability, obedience, community, justice and peace — and you can change the world.  

My hope for the Class of 2021, and all Arkansans, is to experience the happiness and fulfillment that comes from lending a hand to someone else.  

It’s a welcome sign that we can resume celebrating this milestone together with the pomp and circumstance it deserves. I’m proud to recognize the accomplishments of graduates, all students who have demonstrated their ability to adapt how they learn, the teachers who rose to the challenge and the parents who rearranged their schedules to accommodate learning changes. As we close another school year, I wish them all a great summer and much success in the years ahead.