By Daphne Sashin, CNN
(CNN) – Sure, the audience at Harvard University's commencement ceremony was treated to a speech from Oprah Winfrey, and grads at other colleges got to hear life lessons from a who's who of politicians, scientists and artists.
But those moments could not compare to the preschool graduation performance at the First Family Early Learning Center in New Castle, Delaware, if excitement is any measure.
Each member of the graduating class was assigned to recite a poem or song for each letter of the alphabet to showcase all they had learned that year. ("D" for days of the week, "N" for numbers.)
Five-year-old Chase Winters had practiced his lines for weeks. When it was time for letter "K," Chase, dressed in tan pants and vest, along with a matching blue shirt and tie, approached the microphone and looked out into the crowd. His mom, Danielle, waited anxiously in the crowd.
"K is for kindergarten, we start in the fall; When we started preschool, we were very small; we're much bigger now, look how tall; so it's off to kindergarten in the fall."
"In that moment, I was filled with so many emotions," Danielle wrote on CNN iReport. "Proud that he had done a great job, surprised at how mature he has become, and sad that my baby is quickly growing up!"
By Andrew Schwartz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tuba player Andrew Schwartz holds a bachelor’s of music from the University of Hartford. He did graduate work at The Manhattan School of Music and is working on an MBA at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, where he is president-elect of the Graduate Business Association. He is an intern at Atlanta-based music startup Tunefruit. Schwartz's story first appeared on CNN iReport.
(CNN) - It’s no secret that education in America is broken. We can’t define a good school, let alone figure out a way to measure success. Yet when money is tight, as it is right now because of the forced budget cuts, the first thing to be cut is always the arts. And that’s a tragedy.
I spent six years in music school before making a switch to business school. I was convinced that I was going to be a musician. I loved music. I was good at it, and I was willing to do anything to get to the top. But then I realized that, even at the top of the music game, the job security isn’t there. So I dropped out of grad school and am now earning an MBA.
But through that transition, I’ve realized why music needs to be a cornerstone of education. Music is an art and a science, and it's one of the best ways kids can learn creativity and those mythical critical thinking skills. The focus of the curriculum isn’t forcing everyone to learn about Bach or Mozart. It’s about learning how to think, rather than what to think.
READ: Forced spending cuts slash hope for teachers
That “how” is the holy grail of education. It’s exactly what makes a good scientist, a good entrepreneur or a productive member of society. I don’t play the tuba anymore, but I think the lessons I learned from it are actually more ingrained into me now that I have some distance from the actual medium I learned them in. Here is just a portion of the many life lessons I learned through music:
Work hard and it pays off
This one came early on in my short-lived musical career. I wasn’t a very good musician when I first started out. It was obvious why: I only practiced an hour a day. But Katie down the street practiced four hours a day. My solution was to kick it up to six hours a day until I was just as good as she was. I had to make up for lost time, and I soon overtook her.
Make it happen
An amazing musician once said to me: “Make it happen."
There will always be obstacles in your way. My junior year in college, my quartet was making a recording for an international tuba competition. (Seriously.) It seemed almost impossible for us to get together to record, but we found one time: 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday. We had all been in class since about 8 a.m., and I had a serious sinus infection. It might have been the coffee and more meds than a doctor would recommend, but I’m convinced that these simple words cleared my head and allowed me to power through the pain and exhaustion. We made the semifinals.
(CNN) - We know education can change the world - but all over the world, even in the place you live, there are obstacles in the way of girls making that happen.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising," airing in spring 2013, follows nine remarkable girls in nine countries in their quest for an education. Throughout the year, CNN will highlight their stories, and the stories of others' around the world making a difference in education.
We bet you've got a story to tell, too. Making it through years of schooling and life lessons is tough everywhere, including cities, towns and counties around the United States. Or maybe it's OK for you, but it was tougher for your mom, your grandma, your teacher, your church leader, your role model. Maybe your sister or daughter is struggling now, or your next door neighbor, your lab partner, your roommate, your teammate.
What's your story? We invite you to share your personal experience about a challenge you faced in getting an education, or to interview a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother - any girl or woman in your community - about her biggest challenge, and how she overcame it.
Sign into CNN iReport, record a video or write about the experience and include an original photo. Your story could be featured on CNN.com.
(CNN) - Fourth-grade teacher by day, adjunct professor and mother by night, Renee Longshore keeps a strict budget and pulls a second income all in the name of teaching.
With her husband's two jobs - he's also a fourth-grade teacher and an adjunct professor - the master's-educated couple makes four incomes. But, money is tight for this family of six.
While Longshore's passion for teaching children helps her overlook her modest life, she sometimes resents her job. She feels under-appreciated by parents at times and like her profession isn't respected.
"My paycheck does not reflect my expertise," she wrote on CNN iReport. "The minimal esteem shown is not warranted, considering my formal schooling and experience. ... But I teach, because that is who I am."
Despite administration frustrations and poor classroom conditions - and for Chicago teachers, a weeklong strike - why do they do it?
Read the full story
It's back to school time! We asked you for your first day of school photos, and you responded! We're still adding some to this gallery. In the meantime, check out these images of some enthusiastic - and not so enthusiastic - students on that special first day of school!
(CNN) It’s back to school once again – the annual rite of passage commemorated on millions of phones and cameras around the world.
Every new school year brings new teachers, new gear, new fashions – and loads of mixed emotions. Students buzz with the anticipation of seeing old friends and getting to know new teachers, while parents cope with the realization that another year of childhood has passed by.
Upload your best original shots of you or your kids in their first day of school outfits and tell us how you felt.
(CNN) – "As a 17 year-old in the St. Louis metro-east area, I would really like to know who the candidates are going to respond to questions on how to improve the public education deficit we have in america."
– Louis Jones, iReporter
CNN PRODUCER NOTE 17-year-old student separatefrom says, 'The reason why I rank education above all other current issues is because I feel as if there is a deficit in valuable knowledge that can be applied to a setting outside of a school setting.' He cites a general lack of funding for education, elementary school not inspiring students enough and the need for a 'nationally implemented plan' to improve teaching methods.
– zdan, CNN iReport producer
Hear what others are saying about education, and contribute your own iReport.
(CNN) - "It's a pretty basic educational problem we have: Students' willingness to learn is not there," says 17-year-old Joseph A. Ryan, Jr.
Ryan posted his video in response to CNN iReport's assignment question "What's wrong with America's school system?" He says the problem is not about technology or books, but about student motivation.
"I go to school where most kids don't even want to learn....They don't care, and teachers get in trouble for it," says Ryan. "They have to see the value in education."
We want to hear from parents, teachers and students. What do you think? Are most students motivated to learn? You can post your thoughts below.
America’s higher education system is ranked as one of the world’s best, but there are great disparities in the country’s K-12 public school system. Performance rates at schools differ across the country and even in the same state. Two students in the same town may receive a totally different education based on the school they attend.
From a lack of funding and teacher shortages to alarmingly high drop-out rates, America is facing an unprecedented crisis in education. Based on your experiences, we’d like to hear what’s wrong with schools today. What could have been better about your own education? What areas could your school could improve? Or, if you had a great experience, tell us what your school system did right.
What should the next commander-in-chief do about the problems?
Turn on your video camera and let us know what’s wrong with schools today based on your own experiences. The most passionate and well-thought-out responses could be featured on CNN, and even in a one-on-one debate!
By the Schools of Thought editors, CNN
(CNN)– Editor's note: CNN's Schools of Thought and CNN Student News asked our audiences to send us iReports during National Teacher Appreciation Week. Here are some of the best submissions we received. Enjoy!
Students in Mr. Balch's world geography class in Allen, Texas say they learn a lot from his teaching.
Faith and Parker want to thank Mrs. Bachman for pushing them into working hard.
Fayetteville, Arkansas junior Madison expresses appreciation for her history teacher, Ms. Burnett.
Veronica studied in the Philippines and says that Miss Manal, and Miss Regner inspired her to learn science and Filipino at school, while Miss Umlas and Miss Palabrica are excellent teachers who Veronica has met online.
Three students from Green Bay, Wisconsin Mrs. Gast is their favorite, and they love her education games, including "preposition pictionary".
Our favorite teacher
One of Mr. Peterson's students says he's awesome.
Cody expresses his appreciation for his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Clapham.
Mrs. Thompson's student sent in her teacher appreciation iReport from Minot, North Dakota.
St. Simons Island, Georgia teacher Mrs. Murray "is always there for you and never lets you down," according to one of her students.
Frau Feiter is one Oshkosh, Wisconsin student's favorite teacher.
Jaiyah's favorite teacher is Ms. Marker because she teaches science.
CNN’s Schools of Thought blog is a place for parents, educators and students to learn about and discuss what's happening in education. We're curious about what's happening before kindergarten, through college and beyond. Have a story to tell? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org