A Speech of Dedication

Here is a wonderful speech of dedication. It was written and delivered by Professor Bernard J. Brommel of Northeastern Illinois University at the naming of Brommel Hall. I reprint it here, with Bernard’s permission, not only to illustrate an excellent speech of dedication but more important to celebrate Bernard’s dedication and generosity to education, to students, and to Northeastern Illinois University. On a personal note I want to add that it's been an honor to know Bernard and to count him among my best friends.

Dedication Remarks at Naming of Bernard J. Brommel Hall, November l8th, 2010, at Northeastern Illinois University

Bernard J. Brommel
Today marks the highest honor I have ever received! Today I rejoice with all of you and celebrate my 46 years of teaching, the last 3 decades at Northeastern. I came to Northeastern in 1971 and in many senses never left emotionally. Today I salute with gratitude my former students at Northeastern, and in the schools where I taught the 20 years before NEIU. Several are here today, going back to when I taught at Keokuk High in Iowa and Indiana State University. Wherever I taught I remained in contact, over now some 59 years with some of the students. We write; we talk on the phone; we e-mail; we visit when they come to Chicago or I see them when I am in their cities. We meet at airports when they or I have a lay over. I write recommendations years after I taught them. Ask my own 6 children—my students remain a part of my extended family. Luckily so many of my Northeastern students remained in Chicago and what a joy it has been to stay in contact.
Today this is a humbling experience. I never dreamed of this high honor. From a very poor family—one of 9 children, 3 of whom died in early adulthood with muscular dystrophy—I knew from early life that I was lucky. Why them with dystrophy, born adjacent to me in birth order? Subconsciously I always felt I had to make something out of my life. It also humbled me. No Brommel had ever gone to college. At a few days after my 17th birthday, I ran away; caught a Greyhound bus to Iowa State University. I had no money for food or rent. I had to get a job the first week. But I did have a national Sears & Roebuck Scholarship for tuition. My beloved teacher, Grace Laird, helped me write the application.
It was a teacher, Grace Laird, that made this day possible. The day before I fled for college, back in l947, she gave me her old Webster's Dictionary for she knew I did not have one. She declared, “I am your English teacher and I never want you to misspell a word; just look it up.” Five years later when I went to the University of Iowa, she gave me her worn “Dictionary of Synonyms,” declaring “You need to improve your writing by using better word choices.” I remember looking out and seeing her in the crowd when I received both my BA and MA. I look out at this crowd today and imagine I see her. Thanks, Miss Laird, for mentoring me and writing recommendations for every scholarship and position I pursued. Thanks for setting an example; I have always strived to be a caring teacher like you. I made my kids go with me to meet her whenever I returned to Iowa. She lived until 101; she left directions for me to speak at her funeral. Now whenever back in Iowa, why do I visit her grave?
Without scholarships along the way, I never would be standing here today! My creating of scholarships at Northeastern returns my debt. Here we still have too few scholarships. I could have gifted scholarships only to my Dept. of Communication, but I wanted to start just one in several departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. I chose to name each of them in honor of a former student or colleague that I thought represented Northeastern the best. Two separate gifts, one, the annual Faculty Distinguished Research Award, and a second that encourages one of our graduates each year to pursue a doctorate, each fulfils my desire to reward my colleagues, and help more of our students to complete a doctorate!
One of my closest friends, Pete, asked me recently WHY I wanted to do these scholarships for Northeastern. I had to think because I tried to give something each year, even if it was only $50. It just seemed the right thing to do. Pete's question caused me to reflect. I then realized that my own struggles to get a higher education paralleled the lives of my students at Northeastern. Many, if not most, are first generation in their families to attend college. Almost all of our students work part time jobs to stay in school—so did I. Many lacked confidence that they could measure up to professors' expectations—so did I.
I learned early on at Northeastern that our students appreciated my high expectations of them. No student in any of my public speaking classes ever delivered a talk that I had not seen in outline form and approved in advance. I wanted students' thoughts to be organized and include proof for their generalizations—prepared, of course, in complete sentences. I refused outlines that looked like a grocery list of mismatched thoughts. Their audiences/listeners deserved a reasoned thesis idea that linked their ideas together. Some students had to rewrite 2 or 3 times! I see those struggling students' faces today, smiling when they “got it right.” I always knew they could do it; they were learning that confidence came through work: earning the right to speak.
This building means many things to me. From the day it opened until the day I retired, I taught classes in Room 111. My office for many years was on the top floor. My deans had offices, as they do today, on the first floor. Randy Hudson and Frank
Dobbs were my favorite deans. Pat Reichert, their secretary-one of our finest Civil Service employees-cheered me up in almost daily contacts. I have worked for all of the presidents who have run this university at this location. I thank Jerry Sachs for hiring me. I remember his intense interview. (I appreciate his attendance tonight.)
Over 30 years ago I began talking to each president about the NEED for an endowment. (I never did trust those legislators and governors in Springfield to make college funding a high priority.) Salme Steinberg, whom I honor today, gave me the “green light” to start a Founders Society. When we began, there was less than $20,000 in endowment for Northeastern; a university that was over l20 years old with over 120,000 alumni. Today we nearly have—or had before this recent economic crash—around 5 million in gifts or estate plans. I shall not really be happy until we have a minimum of 50 million in that endowment fund for scholarships for needy/deserving students and funds for our faculty for their research and academic projects.
My fondest WISH is that my students will remember Northeastern with annual small gifts and a small percentage of their estates to this most deserving university. I pass on to each of you a motto that has guided my life: THERE WAS A TIME TO LEARN; THERE WAS A TIME TO EARN; THERE NOW IS A TIME TO RETURN.”
Today in closing I am so happy and grateful, first, to my 6 children; my friends; my former students who are here, some from far away states; my former colleagues; my president, Dr. Sharon Hahs, and Vice President, Dr. Carla Knorowski, who helped me to finalize my estate plans; members of the Board of Directors, Board of the separate Foundation, and Founders Society supporters. My students I honor; they gave me a purpose in life. It's really all about our wonderful diverse students, not about me. Yes, we as faculty have helped students to make a difference in their lives in this complex troubled world. These students in return have made a difference in me. I learned as much from them as they learned for me. This building really belongs to them!

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