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Incoming U of M chief jingles 'keys' for success

Symbols for grads unlock tips on past, present, future

by Tom Bailey Jr.

The next president of the University of Memphis shared her keys to success - literally - with 1,563 graduates who received their degrees Friday at the spring commencement.

Dr. Shirley Raines doesn't take the reins of the U of M until July 1, but took the podium as commencement speaker at The Pyramid.

Since graduates usually forget what their commencement speakers say, Raines - an expert in early childhood education - used visual aids to help the Class of 2001 recall her message.

"If you don't remember what I say, at least you will remember the symbols," said Raines, now vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of the college of education at the University of Kentucky.

She held up an old-fashioned, huge brass key to symbolize the past.

She lifted up her own, current set of keys to represent the present.

And she showed a plastic key card as a symbol of the future.

The old key not only stands for the body of knowledge accumulated over the centuries in the graduates' respective fields, but also the graduates' own, personal accumulation of knowledge and skills.

"It's heavy in our hands; don't drop it," said Raines, urging the graduates to pass on what they have learned to the next generation.

Raines's ordinary present-day keys unlock her house, car and offices at the University of Kentucky. Her set also includes a small key, and she's long forgotten what it's supposed to open.

Together, those keys represent the keys that will unlock doors into the graduates' futures, she said.

The house key represents the homes graduates will create for themselves. The car key represents the "vehicles" that will help get the graduates where they want to go: their special talents, personalities, tenacity.

"Your vehicle for success is who you are," she said.

The office keys open doors to the "teams of individuals with whom we work," and also the university.

And the small, mystery key is the "key of inspiration," she said. "I'm inspired to keep it because I don't know what lock I'll encounter."

That inspiration could come from church, synagogue or other personal beliefs, she said. Or from art, music and literature.

"I don't know what key it will unlock but I must keep it because I must stay inspired," she said.

The futuristic card key symbolizes new knowledge and skills it'll take to stay connected to the past, she said.

"Free yourself of preconceived notions of what shape a key should be," she said.

"It's the key to openness, to new ideas and to new people.

"Because openness will unlock doors to your success."

Also graduating Friday were 128 students at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. And Friday night at Second Presbyterian Church, Crichton College held
its spring commencement.

Earlier in the day at The Pyramid, joyous families, friends and graduates filled half of the vast arena. Some U of M grads felt a few butterflies while most stayed cool as they waited for commencement to begin.

"It's nice, but I have more school ahead of me. I have more stress coming," said Stephanie Williams, 21, as she waited with other Arts and Science majors for the processional.

She landed her bachelor of arts degree in Spanish and foreign languages, but now faces law school.

Donna Davidson beamed a pronounced grin as her daughter, Amy Davidson, 24, took her place for the processional.

"She's my parents' first grandchild to finish college," Davidson said of her daughter, a Millington Central High grad.

"It's a milestone for us."

Copyright, 2001, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN. Used here with permission. No additional reproduction or distribution of this article in any form is permitted without the written approval of The Commercial Appeal (

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