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“There will be many opportunities in your life,” said Joshua Meibos, the keynote speaker at Northern Arizona University’s first graduation ceremony Friday morning. “Dare to get out of your comfort zone. Touch the slime.”

Meibos, the 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from NAU Friday, was referring to a recent trip for teachers he attended that was hosted by Google at its California campuses. As part of the trip, teachers visited a number of local schools, including The Primary School in east Palo Alto.

The school teaches ages 3 to 5 and is located in an extremely poor part of town, where the average life expectancy is 20 years less than the other side of town, he said. The school focuses on the health of its students as well as their education and has a pediatrician, nurses and other health professionals on staff.

In one of the classrooms during Meibos’ visit the students were playing with slime. Meibos notice one boy playing by himself in a corner. He sat down on the floor with the child and asked him his name. The boy gave him his name.

“He looked at me with these big eyes, he may or may not have had a runny nose,” Meibos said to laughter. “And he asked me if I wanted to touch the slime.”

After the laughter died down, Meibos said he really didn’t want to touch the slime, but he did and he was glad he did. He said he made a friend and learned from the experience.

As 2018 Arizona Teacher of the Year, Meibos said he’s had some amazing opportunities. He’s met the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the U.S. Secretary of Education and toured the White House.

“I could have done a quick observation and then gotten out of there,” he said, of his encounter with the boy. “I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t miss that opportunity.”

He encouraged graduates to take advantages of the opportunities that come their way and challenge themselves to do and be better.

Seizing opportunities that come your way and challenging your assumptions was a theme that was echoed by other speakers at Friday morning’s NAU graduation ceremony. When the graduation ceremonies close Saturday afternoon, more than 5,700 graduates will have walked across the stage in the Walkup Skydome at NAU. The speakers for this year’s event were Meibos, professor emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering at NAU William Auberle, the trustee of Lowell Observatory W. Lowell Putnam and the chairwoman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Lynn Rae Valbuena. Each of the speakers received an honorary doctorate degree from NAU.

Arizona Board of Regents member Lyndel Manson encouraged graduates to continue to learn and strive.

“Do not meet a difference of opinion as a personal affront to yourself, but as a way to learn,” she said. The founding fathers had many differences, yet they were able to come together to create the founding documents of this country, Manson said.

Anthony Hessel, the president of the graduate student government, urged graduates to resist labeling people. We are all unique, he said. We all came here with unique dreams and challenges to overcome.

He also reminded them of those who had helped them meet and exceed those challenges.

“We have an obligation to lift up those around us,” he said. “We need to learn to accept that there are some who will disagree with you and that is OK. People will look to you for leadership and direction. What is your next chapter?”

“Today is about more than walking across this stage and picking up a degree,” said NAU President Rita Cheng. “Now, what will you do with that degree? Each of you has your own story that led you here. The world needs your dedication and your belief that you can make this a better world. Keep chasing what scares you.”

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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