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HGSE Graduate Student Commencement Address 2008

Dean McCartney, Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot, Associate Deans, Faculty, Staff, Family, Friends and most especially, the distinguished Harvard Graduate School of Education Class of 2008:

It would be almost inconceivable to imagine that you and I would have ever met.  I was raised in a South Texas border town, speaking a mixture of Spanish and English and frequently traveling between my hometown, Brownsville, and our sister city in Mexico.  Few of my distant relatives rarely ventured beyond the Rio Grande to travel, visit friends, or even attend university.

I grew up listening to a peculiar, and what you might even consider weird, style of music called "country-western."  I recall with great affection the anticipation I felt as I turned on the radio in my dad's truck.  Within seconds, songs spilled out and I joined in with the fervor of a potential American Idol, singing along with tunes that just might seem a little strange to you.  They included the heart-wrenching and romantically moving lyrics from, "Hey Baby, I changed your oil and you changed my life," to the classic song that subtly combines religion and sports entitled, "Dropkick Me Jesus through the Goalposts of Life," to my personal all time favorite, "My wife ran off with my best friend and I miss him."

Twenty years later and almost 1,900 miles across the country, I moved to Cambridge, Mass., and found myself living in a city and attending a university that I had only dreamed about.  Navigating the streets of Boston, walking through the Yard, and traversing the historic Cambridge Common, I couldn't help but wonder whether I was in another city or had fallen into one of Lewis Carroll's rabbit holes, popping up into a whole other world - the world of Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Like a kid in a candy store, I stuffed my schedule with every course I could pack in, running from my Leadership in Organizations course, to my lecture in Financial Resources for Nonprofits, only to turn around and just make it to my School Leadership proseminar.  Constantly armed with my mug of Starbucks coffee, I was very conscious that I only had one year to absorb as many lessons as I could at this school.

And yet, the most fundamental lesson I learned while at HGSE was one that pervaded every course I took, even if sometimes it was never mentioned.  It was the very simple, but at the same time very profound principle that education, at its very core, is a shared enterprise.  Whether you are from Brownsville or Boston, from Bogota or Beijing, the gathering and sharing of different experiences, different life-lessons, and different points of view is what learning at this grad school is all about. Harvard's Graduate School of Education is, as one of my Harvard professors, Dr. Thomas Hehir, frequently reminded me, a community of diverse and collaborative learners - the community we especially celebrate over these next two days.

Reaching out to different cultures and creeds, different beliefs and backgrounds, our school symbolizes and is built upon a community of learners who acknowledge that education - far more than just the relaying of information from lecterns and course packets - encompasses the passionate interactions and intellectual contributions of a very diverse and very talented group of people.  As my mentor, Dr. Mary Grassa-O'Neill, constantly reminded her students, each of us at HGSE is both teacher and student, both leader and learner, embodying and acting on the conviction that true education arises from our efforts of inquiring about, engaging with, and learning from each other.

In a larger context, this idea, of education as engagement and education as shared enterprise, reaches beyond Appian Way and into the very heart of our larger university community, as it more deeply defines its signature axiom.  For a collaborative approach to education more profoundly affects the standard under which Harvard has stood for almost 400 years - "truth" or "veritas." A community of collaborative learners embraces and announces the reality that truth, and thus education, lives as an organic, mutual endeavor, generating a unity of learners while at the same time rejecting a uniformity of ideas.  It reflects the unwavering belief that no single person, no single ideology, and no single political system monopolizes the entire truth.  In so doing, Harvard Graduate School of Education acts as an essential influence on the entire university.  We are not simply another graduate school, another faculty, or another student body, rather, we symbolize and actualize the reality that truth arises from a collaborative community who are committed to the bedrock proposition that there is always more to learn, and that every voice matters around the table of education.

At the same time, to limit this dynamic to this one year would be doing an injustice to what HGSE and her mission are all about.  For while Harvard Graduate School of Education draws to herself an international and impressive array of people, it also exists as an institution that propels people to engage our larger society - those who live beyond these ivy-covered walls - so as to animate an even larger community of diverse and collaborative learners.  We, enriched by our professors and colleagues, are challenged today to move beyond the lecture halls of Longfellow and the classrooms of Gutman to venture out, to find, to invite, and to empower those who have yet to contribute to the process of teaching and learning, reaching out to our own cities, and to our own countries.  And while our graduate school exists as a force that brings together a rich and an extraordinary body of people, it also challenges us to go back out into the world to use the knowledge shared and the collaborative process by which it was gained, to change it for the better.

If we, you and I together, take this challenge and indeed build that community of collaborative and diverse learners and give to the world what Harvard's Graduate School of Education has already given to us, I believe that the prophesy of the Jesuit French educator Tielhard de Chardin will come true about the HGSE graduating class of 2008 -that women and men will decree, long after we have walked across this stage, that for the second time in history, humankind discovered fire.

Thank you, congratulations to all, especially my brother and sister graduates, and good luck!

TJ Martinez, Ed.M.'08, delivered this speech as part of HGSE's 2008 Convocation exercises on June 4, 2008. He is also the School Leadership Program recipient of the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.


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