College of the Redwoods

&

Humboldt State University

College Matters | Graduates, flap those butterfly wings

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 12:30pm

We recently celebrated hundreds of graduates at Cal Poly Humboldt’s Fall Commencement. Lumberjack Arena on Dec. 16 was electric with the graduates’ enthusiasm, and their families and friends were glowing with pride.

At each ceremony, we ask an alum to welcome graduates into the alumni community. Heidi Moore-Guynup, a longtime educator and leader in our community, had that honor this year, and after hearing her speak, I wanted more people to know what she had to say.

Abbreviated excerpt from Heidi Moore-Guynup’s remarks to Fall 2022 Cal Poly Humboldt graduates

On behalf of the more than 84,000 alumni of Cal Poly Humboldt, congratulations. You did this!

Graduates, you are joining the Forever Humboldt community. We have alumni in all 50 states and around the world. The largest group is here in Humboldt County, totaling more than 15,000.

One alum is NASA’s deputy chief scientist, another is chief judge for the Yurok Tribe. We have alumni who are leaders and educators at every level, including seven university and college presidents, two of whom are at other CSU campuses. We have an alum who has a lead position at National Geographic, and another who was part of a major effort that led to detection of gravitational waves. And of course, the late Stephen Hillenburg, who created a beloved cartoon about an optimistic sea sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

Many of our alumni give back to support Cal Poly Humboldt students. Over the last year, thousands of alumni and donors gave more than $14 million in an effort to improve the student experience. One thing I can say for certain — our alumni are very PROUD of this university and their experience here. We feel connected, and are honored to call Humboldt our alma mater.

You did this! But not without the help of many others.

Graduation reminds me of a powerful Ted Talk facilitated several years ago by Andy Andrews on “The Butterfly Effect.” It is a powerful illustration of how each of us has been impacted and shaped by others and reminds us that we too have the power to impact others. The Butterfly Effect refers to the metaphorical example of a tornado being influenced by small things such as a distant butterfly flapping its wings weeks earlier.

Basically, what we do matters! I can share a few examples from my own life.

I was born in 1969 and lived in the “projects” of Marin City. It was home to many extremely poor people of color during the 50s, 60s and 70s as they were intentionally segregated via red-lining. You know how a railroad line can separate the wealthy from the poor? In this case, the “tracks” were our very own Highway 101.

The projects were a hotbed for racial and civil strife, so much so that emergency responders would not respond without police escorts. The area was also home to many influential people of color, and the hills just above Marin City housed some of the Bay Area’s most notable Black figures including Laurel Birch, Maya Angelou and my grandparents, the Marin County Postmaster General and his wife, an officer at the Hamilton Air Force Base. Although I lived below the hill, my grandparents often took my twin brother and I up to their home to give my mother respite. Occasionally, we would be dropped off at the neighbors across the street, who happened to be Maya Angelou. I was too young to remember, but I know I was positively influenced by her deeply poetic voice and words. She flapped her butterfly wings at this premature baby and like that, my love of writing must have been born.

Later, as a teenager, I worked for Charles Schulz at his Redwood Empire Ice Arena. He wrote his comics there and would enjoy apple pie and coffee nearly every day. He was shy, so one of my jobs was to keep eager children and families from disturbing him, while also playing go-between for autographs. We had a sweet friendship and he even wrote one of his comics about me… Lucy, trying in vain to convince Charlie Brown to try lemon meringue pie for once instead of apple pie.

As a teenager, I never quite fit in. I was a bi-racial girl in a predominately white school and city. Not Black enough and not White enough. Charles Shulz would host extravagant ice shows with people like Scotty Hamilton and other Olympic skaters. One time, he was joined by the fashion icon Givenchy, who had his teenage son in tow. They asked if I would join them all for an upscale dinner, and while talking, Givenchy said I was beautiful. That moment helped me to slowly learn to embrace and love my uniqueness. Butterfly Effect.

Obviously, those two stories are of very famous people and yes, I love telling them. But the biggest Butterfly Effects came from the women before me.

My great-grandmother was a strong-willed White woman who was the first female to get a motorcycle license in Minnesota, and one of the first to get a divorce in the state. She was a trailblazer and an artist, and I have one of the paintings she did of a Chippewa Indian Chief. He and his wife would exchange portrait sessions and hand-beaded jewelry for English lessons — she certainly got the better end of the bargain. Butterfly Wings.

After my grandfather died of a sudden heart attack, my grandmother was a single mom. She was a school marm and would take a bus two hours each Sunday evening to her school and then come back home again on Friday. During the week, my mom lived with her grandmother. Together, these two women raised a socially progressive, precocious child. My grandmother loved art, and taught one student who was born without arms how to paint with her toes. I still have the cutout Christmas angels she made for me — the only ones that looked like me. Another Butterfly Effect.

My mom was Kathleen (Kay) Weatherly, a sweet White girl from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, who was a masterful musician, a terrific artist, a poet, and more. She experienced hardship and a lot of discrimination. The one thing that always took center stage were her kids, and as a single mom, she made sure we left the projects for somewhere with access to a high-quality education. Her fierce commitment to us and to education were a Butterfly Effect.

With degrees in hand from Cal Poly Humboldt and other universities, I have been blessed to work in education. I have served more than 12,000 students across Humboldt County Schools the past 30 years as a school counselor, school psychologist, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent. Throughout my career, I have made a point to really know my students and support them. I have had the privilege of impacting thousands of young people, some of whom I remain in touch with after 30 years. Each day I tried to flap my butterfly wings, so hard that maybe a life would be impacted in a positive way.

I share these stories to illustrate the power we all hold to make this world better. With all of the unrest of our times, can’t we all benefit from more butterfly wings flapping?

Who do you credit for flapping their wings for you? Maybe reach out and thank them for their lasting impact. Who do you want to impact? What is the move at the right time that might make a difference? Sometimes, we are lucky enough to see the impact of our actions, and other times, we just trust that something good will happen as a result.

You matter. Go flap your wings!

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt. Heidi Moore-Guynup is a longtime educator and leader in the community.