Keynote speaker Marco French brings table talk to new GSU graduates 

Persevere and make sure to get your seat at the table of life was the message presented by Principal Marco French to new Grambling State University graduates as GSU held its second round of Fall 2021 Commencement Exercises Thursday morning at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center. French serves as principal at Shreveport’s Queensborough Elementary School and is the 2021 Louisiana State Principal of the Year. 

But French’s journey to such significant honors wasn’t an easy one, and he used the table metaphor to urge the new GSU graduates to never give up, no matter what obstacles they might face on their own roads to success. 

“You have reached a milestone in life with hopefully many more still to come,” French said. “Hopefully today you might hear something that will resonate in you when you face times that aren’t good, and when they are good.  To be honest, I haven’t always been proud of the story of my journey. But looking back at this point, I wouldn’t change anything. So let’s take it from the top, and that’s with this — You belong at the table, so take your seat.” 

“Some of you are thinking, ‘What do you mean?’ … There have been times in my life where I was not invited to the table or even invited into the room. I never ‘Bogarted’ my way to the table,  never pushed my way into a room. But the Good Lord told me, your gifts will make room for you.” 

French went on to talk about his success as a student at GSU being on the President’s list every semester, and being a Gates Millennium Scholar. 

But then, as he neared completion of his degree French had to face one of his biggest obstacles ever — the Praxis test that has to be passed to be certified to become a classroom teacher. 

“In 2003 I was supposed to graduate from Grambling after my four years there like most students do,” French said. “But that wasn’t the course for Marco French. I took the Praxis, and failed the end part of the test more than eight times. More than 10 times to be exact. Every time I failed the test by one point.

After the fourth time of failing the test by only one point, I told myself it was time to give up. I could have easily quit school, or found another degree program and stayed in school even longer. I even had the test results rescored and got a letter back saying the test scores were 99% accurate and that my score hadn’t changed when being rescored.” 

French ended up graduating from GSU with an Associate’s degree in child development and said he was job hunting when he was called on a Saturday afternoon by someone from Atkins Elementary School in Shreveport, who asked French if he had a job yet. French met with the principal and others on Sunday and was offered a job, and first thing that next Monday morning — two days after receiving the phone call — he was standing in front of his new classroom of 28 students serving as a uncertified substitute teacher receiving $80 per day. 

And that became French’s life for the next eight years. 

“Some people didn’t understand how I stayed in that position so long without being certified,” French said. “But I’ll tell you why. Every year for eight years, my third, fourth and fifth grade students outscored classes taught by certified teachers at the school. Every time.” 

French said that because of the complaints his principal eventually transferred him to a fourth- and fifth-grade Special Education Class. 

“And guess what happened to my SPED students? — They scored as high or higher than the other classes,” French said. “I had made a name for myself, and I had made room at the table.” 

French then explained there are three types of seats that can be at the table. 

“The recliner seat is the one where you sit back, not to relax, but to sit back and pay attention to what’s going on in the room so you will know how to respond, how to reflect, and how to grow. The second seat is the straight-back seat. That’s the seat when it comes time for business and you come to it and know what you know and you’re ready to completely dive into the conversation with everyone else sitting at the table with you. 

“Then there’s the third seat. That’s the seat that swivels. When I sit in this seat, I’m truly prepared, not only for the things happening at the table but also the things happening around but away from the table. That’s the seat where you know what’s coming at you, good or bad.” 

He then told the graduates what he’s learned from his years at the table — lessons that led to him eventually becoming principal at Queensborough, and having it removed from the state’s academically failing list and under French’s leadership receiving recognition as Louisiana’s Outstanding School, ranking first out of the top 10 high-performing schools for third-grade literacy progress and growth in 2019. 

Queensborough was also recognized for having the highest growth in the district with a 93.7% progress index and a school performance score increase of eight points. 

“What I learned at the table was how to trust and believe and know that God’s working things out for me,” French said. “God was allowing everything to fall into place for me in its given time.” There are some pieces of the puzzle He’s still working on. 

“So don’t give up and let any stumbling blocks get in your way. Now is the best time for you to grow and build your faith in God. Trust God and know that he has your back and your best interests at heart.” 

French concluded by taking the new graduates to the table one last time. 

“Today we celebrate you for so many reasons,” French said. “We thank you for not giving up when times got hard. We applaud you in making the right decisions to do the right things  in leading you to the room that’s going to put you in the right seat at the table that’s already yours.” 

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