May 20, 2009
Cory Graham doesn't hesitate when asked to describe his 2009 thus far: "Fifth and final was the finest," he said with a grin.
Though he walked across the stage as part of Indiana State University's May commencement, he doesn't technically finish until December. What lies between the two graduations is only partially responsible for Graham's comment as this year has been a grand adventure for the elementary and special education major from Indianapolis.
In January, Graham journeyed to Washington D.C. to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"It was a beautiful thing," he said, although he didn't make it into the National Mall with the assembled throngs. "We could see the projectors a little bit. I watched the end at Union Station."
He returned to Washington D.C. in April to speak at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention with Indiana State Associate Professor of Elementary Education Marylin Leinenbach. The two, along with other teammates, spoke about ISU's Student Mathematical AfteR-school Thinking (SMART) program in which college students teach elementary students about making wise financial decisions through ISU's Networks Financial Institute's Money Bus program. More than 19,000 people attend the national conference.
"It was a complete honor," Graham said about being asked to speak during the Money Bus/SMART session.
His biggest adventure comes in the fall when he will journey to Kenya for the final half of his student teaching. Indiana State partnered with Indiana University's Cultural Immersions Project one year ago to open international teaching experiences to its students, and Indiana State students have taught in Australia and the Navajo Nation.
"I will be living in a sugar cane field hut with no water and no electricity," he said smiling.
With such moments in the past and the future, Graham easily stated this year has been a pinnacle of experience for him.
"I feel like a young man prepared for the world with all the various things I've done and learned," he said.
Graham grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Warren Central High School: "Home of the Warriors, state champs 2004-05 football Class 5A," he proudly proclaimed. His mother, who has spent more than two decades teaching at high schools in Indianapolis, urged her son to study education when he enrolled in college.
"My mother, she always told me I could pick my major but at least education was going to be a minor," he said. "It was a must for her. I appreciate her because it really is something I am passionate about learning. With the youth and younger generation, I want to give back by teaching the wisdom of my mother and other generations above have taught me."
While growing up, Graham would often visit his mother's classroom.
"It created an awareness about education," he said. "I came here and gained a passion about it through my education program."
Graham chose Indiana State because of its high level of diversity among students. During his first year, he was part of the Academic Opportunity Program, which assists students transitioning from high school to college. In his senior year, Graham served as a mentor in the same program and tried to pass along what he learned through his college experience.
"Business before pleasure always and forever," he said as one motto he passed along. "Stay focused. Getting up and going to class is half the battle. Watch who you hang with as your best five friends will determine your future. Plan, prepare, practice. These are just different things I preach to my mentees about how I've survived through college."
Graham's excitement about learning and passing knowledge to others attracted Leinenbach's attention. As she told the students about the Networks Financial Institute's Money Bus and Indiana State's SMART program designed to teach elementary students about financial literacy, she could see Graham's interest.
"From the first, I could see that Cory had the needed passion for teaching and had the interest of the children at heart," she said. "He proved me right during the time at DeVaney (Elementary) as time after time I observed him with the children - serious and yet with a caring manner. His students looked up to him with respect."
Graham said he remembers financial lessons he learned in grade school through the Exchange City program and wanted to help continue that through the Money Bus/SMART program.
"I knew this program would be effective and I wanted to take a part and help today's youth," he said. "In today's economic state it's very necessary that you know these special skills and to learn the difference between a want and a need, credit versus debit, compound interest versus simple interest and various things about financial literacy."
During the six weeks of classes one afternoon a week, Leinenbach spoke with the college students about the presentation she would make at the national conference in D.C. and she "saw a gleam in Cory's eyes immediately."
"Cory wanted to learn as much as he could to be the best teacher possible and he saw this as a great opportunity," Leinenbach said. "He inquired about the possibility of his going also and in Cory I saw such potential for teaching, such energy, such desire that I started working on getting him a grant to go."
College leaders found the money to help send Graham to the conference where he spoke about his experience with the Money Bus/SMART program and teaching the elementary students.
"Cory was such an important part to our presentation," Leinenbach said. "I told our audience that I did not need to bring a video of ISU students teaching financial literacy to the DeVaney children because I had the great pleasure of bringing a student with me."
During preparation for the conference, Graham asked Leinenbach why she would help him.
"I explained that many years ago, a very special principal gave me a chance to broaden my horizons and it was time to pay back," she said. "I told Cory that when I am 75, I expect an e-mail telling me of his success."
His journey toward that goal begins this summer. He will spend 10 weeks student teaching in the Indianapolis Public School system - five weeks at an elementary and five weeks with special education.
But the real adventure begins in October when he will get on a plane for his first transatlantic flight and leave for Kenya. After landing in Nairobi, he will face a nine-hour bus ride to the town of Bungoma where he will live among and teach the Bikusu tribe members. That's where he will face a challenge of living without running water and electricity.
"I'm looking forward to living in the sugar cane field hut and having to cope without the luxuries of everyday life," he said.
Since Graham will return at Christmas he will miss ISU's fall graduation so he walked across the stage in May, Graham plans to return to ISU's classrooms as a student to earn his master's degree. While he enjoys teaching, his ultimately plan is to spend seven years in the classroom before becoming a school administrator. His goal is simple; he wants to be the youngest administrator in the state of Indiana.
"I want to affect the youth for the positive," he said. "To let them know the value of education and the importance of knowledge."
To that end, he also is working to establish a scholarship to encourage black males to go into education. From reading 2005-06 statistics, he said he found that 90,000 whites received education degrees versus 6,000 blacks. Of the blacks receiving education degrees, only 1,600 were males. Students in high-risk, inner city schools need to see black male teachers, he said.
"They don't have anyone to relate to some of the things outside of the classroom they go through, which can be tough," he said. "I think I can relate to some of the things from growing up on the east side of Indianapolis. I just want to be a positive role model that they may not see at home or in the classroom."
Contact: Cory Graham, Indiana State University, senior elementary and special education major from Indianapolis, at email@example.com
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutline: Cory Graham assists a student at DeVaney Elementary in Terre Haute as part of his work with the SMART and Money Bus programs. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Cutline: Marylin Leinenbach, ISU associate professor of elementary education, and Cory Graham, ISU senior elementary and special education major from Indianapolis, show the Money Bus board games that were given out as door prizes at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention in Washington D.C. Courtesy photo.
Though Cory Graham walked across the stage as part of Indiana State University's May commencement, he doesn't technically finish until December. What lies between the two graduations is only partially responsible for Graham's thoughts as this year has been a grand adventure for the elementary and special education major from Indianapolis.