A Mother/Professor/Lawyer’s Advice: How to Raise Your Kids to Be Academic Champions

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Dr. Mary Stoddard is second-to-none in how she raised her kids.  All five of her children know multiple languages, one has a PhD, the others are simply too young to have their PhDs already.  Also, Dr. Stoddard was born picking cotton in a family of sharecroppers, and went on to get a law degree and PhD herself.  Also, she and her 14 siblings all finished college. She is nothing less than the example of absolute excellence.  Hear her words in the interview below:


Dr. Watkins:       Hi.  I’m Dr. Boyce Watkins from yourblackworld.com.  I showed a young woman that we featured on our website.  Her name was Brittany Exline.  She is an extraordinary young woman.  She’s 19 years old.  She just graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.  Now, from what I understand, she’s the youngest African American engineer in the United States.  A lot of parents saw this story and you feel that kids like this they just grow on trees or that their delivered by storks and that somehow, they just magically appear.  But they don’t just magically appear.  These kids are products.  They are products of good parenting.  Just like a machine or a product a toy comes off a manufacturing line, great children come off of a manufactured process of creating those great children.


So, what I wanted to do was reach out to someone that I know who is able to create kids like this.  Her name is Dr. Mary Stoddard.  And, I’m going to ask her a few questions but I want to first greet her.  How are you doing today, Dr. Stoddard?


Dr. Stoddard:     I’m doing great, Dr. Watkins.  How are you?


Dr. Watkins:       Oh, I’m fine.  I’m fine.  You know what?  You are so kind to participate in our building outstanding men and boy empowerment theories that we took down the Louisville, Kentucky.  And you did a great job.


The reason why I invited you is because I am your number one fan when it comes to parenting.  You have, I want to say, five children, right?


Dr. Stoddard:     That’s correct.


Dr. Watkins:       All five of your children have gone on to do extraordinary things.  One of your children is about to finish her Ph.D.  Your other kid did very well in school and I’m sure you’ll have other Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s by the time they’re done.  I could literally take one of your kids and make a story out of what you give him.  It’s absolutely amazing.


So, I want to ask you first of all, can you tell me a little bit about your children?  I’d hate to ask you to brag a little bit but I’d like people to know a little bit about the backgrounds of your kids and some of the things that they’ve done that has really stood out to you.


Dr. Stoddard:     Well, Dr. Watkins, as you have indicated, I do have five children.  My oldest is completing a Ph.D. in BioChemistry at the University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss.”  The second one is working on a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering also at Ole Miss and is scheduled to complete in about two years.  The middle child is working on a Masters in Communication and is in the process of applying for Ph.D. programs at universities such as:  UCLA; USC, which is where her undergraduate is from; and Oxford.  My fourth child is attending Rice University and is in the process of applying for medical school with the vision of becoming a Neurosurgeon.  The youngest is in the 10th grade in high school and has plans on becoming a veterinarian and an actress because she does do some acting currently.


The oldest — they’ve all accomplished significant things.  The oldest one’s notable accomplishment is the University of Mississippi has never had a student to be a Nobel Laureate invitee and this is a wonderful opportunity for an exceptional student to have an opportunity to attend the conference at the expense of someone else with Nobel Laureate, prize winners, Nobel Peace Prize winners.  And, this is invitation only.  You cannot say, “Hey, I want to go to this.  I’ll pay the registration fee.”  It is an invitation only.  The United States sends — and the conference is every two years.  So, two years ago, the United States sent 77 students to represent the United States.  She was one of that 77.  There was a total population of 500 students worldwide that attended this conference and she was one of the 77 from the United States.  Additionally, 10 percent of those students were asked to spend an additional week in the lab of a Nobel Prize winner.  So, for her that was an exceptional opportunity that very few people have an opportunity to achieve.  For that, it caused her, in order to get that position, she had to beat out people, or students, and even individuals with Ph.D.’s because she was in the category with professionals with Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s.  So, she had to beat out a large population of really highly skilled and highly talented persons as well.


Dr. Watkins:       Wow.  Okay.


Dr. Stoddard:     They’re all musically accomplished as well.  The fourth one plays for the Rice marching band.  She plays the cello in the band, which is a little bit different.  Those are some of the accomplishments that they’ve all — that they do.


Dr. Watkins:       Well, I love it.  I love it.  And the reason I wanted you to kind of summarize some of that, and I know that there is so much to summarize.  It’s kind of hard to get it all.  But, I wanted you to summarize some of that so people would know why I’m speaking to you.  I’m not just calling a joe-blow on the phone or a Jane Doe.  I’m actually talking to someone who has really embodied the essence of what we call purposeful parenting.  Meaning that great children are not created by accident.  They are created when you create them with a sense of purpose.


And, you, yourself, growing up, you came from a very humble beginning from what I understand.  You had how many brothers and sisters?


Dr. Stoddard:     I had 14 siblings.


Dr. Watkins:       You had 14 siblings.  Am I right to say that almost all of you all, or all of you all, graduated from college; is that correct?


Dr. Stoddard:     All of us have graduated from college.  That is correct.  And, when you say “from humble background,” we’re from extremely humble backgrounds.  We were raised on a farm in Louisiana as a sharecropper — from sharecropper parents.  And, we were taught at a very early age that education was the key to getting off the farm or manual labor.  Education is the key that can give you whatever dream you have.  So we invited that and we took that as gold and we used it to get to where we wanted to be.


Dr. Watkins:       So when people look at you now and they see all that you’ve accomplished in your life, what you’ve accomplished in your children — I mean, just so people know, you happen to have a Ph.D. and a law degree yourself.  When people see you, it’s not a matter of somebody who just got lucky.  You didn’t just go — your husband happens to be a cardiologist.  It wasn’t as if you had things handed to you.  You actually had to work through and overcome more than most people in order to do what you’ve done; right?  So even though you could have made a lot of excuses for not getting your children to where you wanted to be and get yourself where you wanted to be, you were able to just kind of overcome some of that.  Am I correct?


Dr. Stoddard:     That’s correct.  And I think — and my husband, his background is similar to mine.  He was raised in the projects.  He is the only one in his family — he has two other siblings — who had gotten past high school.  As I told my kids, “When you surround yourself with a dream or a vision, you can achieve that dream or vision.”  Now, he made a decision that he was going to get the best education that he could possibly get.


And, you’re right.  People look at us and say, “Well, you’re a doctor and a lawyer so you’re able to provide your kids with all this stuff.”  That was not necessarily the case because having grown up with nothing; we started at — not with the silver spoon already.   As some people would say, “You had a silver spoon.”  We didn’t have that so we had to create and deal what we needed in order to help ourselves and help our children get to where they are.


Dr. Watkins:       Interesting.  I want to ask you this.  I think we painted a good picture of all the interesting dynamics of who you are and what people can learn from you.  And, our goal was not talk about your experiences and how extraordinary you were.  It was also to let people know that this is available to everybody, right?  That this is something that we can all reach out and grab on to.  As a mother, when you would look at young children like Brittany Exline, and your extraordinary children and all of the things they’ve done — what are a couple things that come to mind when you think about the core principles that a parent has to have in order to guide their child to success as opposed to allowing the world to guide them into a direction that is undesirable?


Dr. Stoddard:     I think one of the important things is you have to teach your child that they have to have some values.  And, if they have a foundation of values, they are able to live off of those and achieve whatever it is that they want to accomplish in life.


The other thing that you have to teach your child early in life is that nothing in life is free except trouble.  And, that’s something that I’ve always taught my kids is that the only thing that’s free in life is trouble.  Trouble will find you and hang around as long as you allow it to do so.  But, if there’s something that you want in life, you will have to work for it.  Nobody is going to give you anything freely, unattached.  Those things that we get from someone else by way of giving, we tend not to have the same value to them as if we worked hard for it.


So, hard work and values.  If they have those values –and those values are really their foundation that teach them:  Work for what you want; have some ideas to what you want; and when you work for what you want and have an idea of what you want, then execute that plan.


The other thing I always taught my kids is that no one accomplished anything by themselves.  And, I hear the Republican comment about President Obama made the comment, “You didn’t build it by yourself.”  Well a shortsighted person will take that as, “Okay, you didn’t make anything by yourself.”  In actuality, he’s correct.  We don’t accomplish anything by ourselves.  You have to be able to get up, go to school — and, in my kid’s cases, some of the schools that they went to had no busses so they had to be driven to school.  So, the education that they acquired, they didn’t get it by themselves.  They didn’t get it on their own.  They had to collaborate with other students.  They had to listen to teachers.  I had invested getting up and taking them to school and sometimes leaving my job to take them to school to do things.  So, help them understand that whatever they accomplish in life, they have to be willing to give back.


And so, developing those values and sharing what you have accomplished as you go along the way because somebody’s going to help you at some point in life.  You should not just be a taker but also a giver and a giver more so than a taker.  So those are just a couple of values.  No matter what you accomplish in life — and this is another thing that’s very important.  No matter what you accomplish in life, no matter where your accomplishments take you, there is always going to be somebody better off and somebody worse off.  So, you’re to neither look down on either one of them but look with respect and dignity at both of them because what you’ve accomplished, you didn’t accomplish by yourself.  If you look back at the one who’s not doing as well as you are, then look back to help them.  If you look ahead to the one who has accomplished more than you, then look ahead as that is a challenge that I, too, can achieve if I so desire to achieve.


Now, my mantra that I’ve always told my kids is that no one, under any circumstance, has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do.  That is your decision.  They cannot tell you that you can’t be an engineer.  They cannot tell you that you can’t be a doctor.  You decide that you cannot be a doctor or cannot be an engineer.  You have the capability to crack open a book.  You can learn just about anything.  In reality, if you think about it and you look at your surrounding circumstances, you will find that there is always someone willing to help you and that supports my theory that you should always be willing to lend somebody a hand.


And so, for my kids, those are some of the dire lessons that I have instilled in them.  The one that tops the list mostly is I had them to be rooted in the word of God and allow the Lord to lead them and to bless them.  So when they come up against a wall that they can’t figure out, that they can talk to God and ask God for directions and understanding and guidance.  It’ll work out.


Dr. Watkins:       All right.


Dr. Stoddard:     If they’ve got that, then they are able to accomplish.


Dr. Watkins:       All right.  Well, I love it.  I love it.  I appreciate the fact that you

are — that you have a giving spirit.  That you’re willing to give back and share this information with so many parents that are out there that are looking for solutions.


I just went to Florida.  We did some stuff that involved saving young black boys.  And every city that I ended up going to, I hear exasperated parents who just don’t know what to do.  So that’s what inspired me to call you.  It’s because I think the answers are out there and we’ve got to share those answers when we can.


So, you’re always invited.  You know how much I respect you.  So you’re always invited to share advice on any issue that you would like.  I have a lot of respect for you so I want to say thank you very much. And, by the way, for everyone who happens to live in Louisville, Kentucky, Mary Stoddard is also an outstanding attorney.  She will be a great person for you to go get legal services from.  So, thank you so much, Dr. Stoddard.  I truly appreciate your time.


Dr. Stoddard:     Your welcome, Dr. Watkins.  Have a good day.


Dr. Watkins:       You too.  You too.  And, thank you all for checking us out at yourblackworld.com.  Until we meet again, please, stay strong, be blessed, and be educated.  We are gone.  Peace.



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One Response to A Mother/Professor/Lawyer’s Advice: How to Raise Your Kids to Be Academic Champions

  1. Dr. Stoddard: Kudos to you and your family. I’m passing this article on to my family and friends. I was also born in the Oxford, MS area before my mother left there during the Great Migration. Even though I could have found gainful employment in the automotive industry without a college degree, my mother and older siblings pushed me to attain higher education. I’m so grateful and blessed that they did. What I’ve noticed over the decades is how many more Southern young people go on to college and aspire to higher education than those born in the Northern states.

    Dorothy Cooper
    December 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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