Faculty Speaker at Graduation is Ceramics Teacher Candace O’Leary: “I’m honored that they would want that closing moment with me”


“It makes me feel good to see [students] feel pride about themselves and their work. It has nothing to do with me career wise…I saw them get like excited and they had to get more critical…It helps me because it makes us feel proud of our students…My students are my artwork, my students are my portfolio.” Credit: Video Recording

How were you were chosen to be the faculty graduation speaker?

I have no idea. I thought it was a senior prank, to be honest. I think they thought they were funny, at first…but I think it’s the result of forming a relationship with a lot of different students.

There was a QR code for seniors and they could just go on whichever staff member they wanted to speak at graduation. They just, I think, tallied the votes and whoever got the most was contacted.

Mr. McElmeel emailed and he said that the students voted and the majority of votes were for me and asked if I wanted to do it, cuz I think you have an opportunity to decline, but I chose to do it, so hopefully it goes well. We’ll find out on Monday.

How do you feel about being chosen to be the faculty speaker? 

Well, like I said at first: I thought they just did it to be funny, because they know that I’m introverted so it’s like, hey, let’s make Ms. O’Leary stand on a stage and talk in front of hundreds of people. But you know, obviously I’m honored that they would want that closing moment with me. I think it’s really special and so I’m going to try my best to give them what they want to hear.

Have you prepared a speech? 

It’s in the works. Yeah, I’m still finalizing it.

Any themes you’re planning to touch on? 

I want to focus on a couple of things: individual success and recognizing success. I want to kind of touch on the conversation that it’s important for them to not compare themselves to others in ways. That this moment in itself is amazing and worth celebrating regardless of what they’re going to be doing after this. But I also just want to focus on like them, you know, being aware and owning their future and making the right choices to help that happen.

Did you have any sort of comparable event when you yourself were graduating high school?

Yeah, yeah. I know, I seem old. Cuz I’m an ancestor.  We were in the paleolithic times, pushing rocks up hills…

No, yeah, we had my graduation for high school at Meadowbrook Amphitheater. We had the same sort of thing. I don’t remember who the speakers were, but yeah it was, I would say it’s pretty comparable, mostly staff and a student up there.

How did you feel graduating high school yourself? 

I don’t know, I guess excited and ready to move on and start a new journey, new adventures.

O’Leary unloads kilns. Credit: Candace O’Leary

What was your own post-high school trajectory like?

I had every intention of being an artist. I realized that I needed a way to support myself though and went back to school for education. I ended up still focusing on the arts, starting with art history, then studied drawing, photography and sculpture.  

If you had to give any advice to your younger self, what advice would you give? 

Trust your instincts, follow your gut, and really listen to your passions.

What made you interested in teaching?

I enjoy being able to help young people harness their potential.  

What were your first few years of teaching like? 

My first few years made me the teacher I am today. I taught in Detroit as a charter school and got to work with some wonderful people and students.  

What do you do outside of school? 

I spend time with my family and three doggies. I love being outside and spend all summer taking care of my plants and gardens.  

On the weekends?

We go to the farmers market when we can, and just spend time relaxing and creating.  

Any other thoughts on Graduation?

I’m just really proud of all of them and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do.