It is a great privilege and honor to have been asked to give the commencement address for the 2006 San Diego State University Masters of Arts in Education commencement ceremony. A university graduation ceremony is a happy event where faculty members, students, and their families gather together to celebrate the successful completion of several years of significant academic training. I would like to express my personal warm congratulations to the officials of the Republic of the Marshall Islands who helped make this graduation possible, the families and friends who supported the graduating class, and the graduates themselves who persevered in a difficult challenge. In addition, I bring warm congratulations from the entire faculty of the SDSU Interwork Institute who cannot be present, especially Dr. Fred McFarlane, Co-Director of the Interwork Institute and Chair of the Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education, and Dr. Steve Spencer, Director of the Center for Pacific Studies. Both of these individuals were key figures in transforming the idea of delivering a Master’s degree in RMI into a reality.
When I was asked to give the commencement speech, I was a bit reluctant because this was a new experience for me. I viewed a dozen speeches by such notables as Reverend Desmod Tutu, Vaclav Havel, Gloria Steinem, and other international figures. All gave speeches that spoke to the graduates, but I have spoken to them a lot during the past 2.5 years. Therefore, I have decided to direct this speech to (everyone who played a part in their success) the local communities of Republic of the Marshall Islands. As such, I will first speak about how the SDSU Masters’ program came into being followed by a short description of the challenges the graduates faced as they began their journey several years ago.
In order to understand how these graduates came to be admitted to SDSU and complete their course of study, I would first like to give a short history of the how the SDSU Master’s degree was initiated and delivered here in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
(From the M.A. Program description) Beginning in the 1970s, the SDSU Interwork Institute, responding to educational needs identified by the RMI and other emerging Pacific nations, began to deliver training and consulting services within the Pacific Region. Over the years, there have been a variety of unique educational programs and services that have emerged as a result.
The Department of Administration, Rehabilitation, and Postsecondary Education is housed within the SDSU Interwork Institute, where I am a faculty member.(From the web site) Our mission is to enable individuals, organizations, and communities to support, appreciate, and engage diverse members in community integration through education, research, and advocacy. Our vision is to accomplish this through the development of exceptional leaders in diverse educational and human service organizations using innovative and effective learner opportunities and cross-functional strategic alliances.
To advance our mission and vision, the department offers a program leading to a Master of Arts (MA) in Education with an emphasis in Educational Leadership in Postsecondary Education. Students who pursue the MA degree are prepared for effective management and leadership in changing multicultural societies and in varying organizational environments.
The Ministry of Education in the RMI collaborated with the SDSU Interwork Institute to identify a cohort of emerging educational leaders who now sit before you today. This particular M.A. degree was designed for students to participate in courses and learning experiences that are relevant and practical given the unique educational needs here in RMI. Related student research associated with the program is targeted to respond to critical education issues facing the nation.
Together the Ministry and SDSU found solutions to deliver the masters program using a variety of on-site and distance supported instruction. The emphasis was on providing as much instruction as possible at the local level, thus eliminating the need for multi-year off-island interruption of professional responsibilities and family duties. The program commenced here in RMI in January, 2003 and was completed this spring.
Now that we have an understanding of how the program came into being, I would like to focus our attention on the challenges posed by those individuals who decided to participate in the degree program.
As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child, but what does it take to enable adult learners to further their educational goals? For adults, how often do we say that it is too late to get more education, or what good will further education do you at this time in your life, or how do you plan to use what you have learned once you are finished? Why set sail on a course that puts an enormous amount of stress one’s personal and professional life?
In reflecting on these questions and the current cohort, what emerges are the following phrases: passion for a cause, support from the community, sacrifice of each individual, and commitment to reaching the goal. Let’s examine how those elements impacted the members of this cohort as they began their master’s journey.
Almost three years ago, with the support of their families and the community, these graduates took a leap of faith and started on an educational voyage….a voyage that had a destination, but with many difficult challenges along the way. Why did they take this voyage? What would they find along the way? What would they do once they reached their destination? I believe the answers to those questions came from who they left behind….their families and members of their communities. These were people who believed in the passion and dedication of the voyagers’ goals, people who believed that the knowledge and experienced gained would be used for the betterment of the community, people who put their faith in knowing that the sacrifice they would make in terms of time lost with the voyagers would, in the long run, be time gained for the nation. Make no mistake about it; those left behind were the reason the voyagers set sail.
During the journey, the voyagers used their sense of community and innate navigational skills to chart their course through a master’s program of ten distinct and very demanding classes, waves of assignments, and unparalleled demands in terms of time and focus. Throughout the voyage, family and professional life continued. As a community of committed learners they helped each other through difficult intellectual challenges, personal losses, and endless sleepless nights trying to help each other stay on the same course in order to reach their final destination.
The graduates that sit before you, as Masters of Education had no guarantee that they would reach their destination. It took a huge amount of personal determination, perseverance, and vision of the future of RMI to keep them going. It took courage, determination, optimism, and patience. But in the end, they made it. They reached the shore and can now call themselves Masters of Education with all the honors due as a result of their accomplishments.
So now what? How does one transfer what they learn in an educational environment to practical application? In other words, which way does the wind blow. Luckily, for these voyagers, practicality was built into the journey not only on a program level, but each voyager had an internal compass that guided their individual research efforts – efforts that would make a difference in the lives of the teachers, administers, and students they served. For example, original research was conducted on such topics as “Coaching Teachers and the Impact on Student Achievement,” “Absenteeism and GPA at the Ebeye Public Elementary School,” “Case Study: Truancy in the Marshall Islands,” “A Model for Achieving Full Implementation of K-12 Education,” “Development of a Cluster PTA Model in Regional Schools,” “Determining the Actual Number of RMI Deaf Students and Necessary Accommodations for those Students.”
In addition to the knowledge gained from doing the actual research, each project has very specific practical recommendations; recommendations that can be implemented during the upcoming academic year. In essence, these graduates now possess the knowledge, skills, and vision to implement these recommendations and to help their fellow educators examine additional issues that are immanent within their own local schools and make recommendations to address those issues.
In closing, this is a proud day for us all, and I reiterate the congratulations from Dr. McFarlane, Dr. Spencer and all of us at SDSU. Confucious said, “The greatest Master is not the one with the most students, but the one who creates the most Masters.” It is our privilege to share together the joy of this day and the achievement of these graduates. In addition, I would again like to congratulate not only the voyagers who made the journey but the families, communities, and entire nation on the accomplishments of these individuals. Now that they have returned, there is time to spend getting reacquainted with family and friends. Time to continue their work within their communities and other social organizations. Time to sit and reflect on the journey. Time now to be accountable to the nation for what they have learned. What they have accomplished is exemplary. Their passion for excellence and commitment to being a part of something larger than themselves will be a new star for others to follow. Thank you