Education has the power to impact and change lives every day whether through the connections made as alumni, the learning that transpires between faculty and students, or the second life it can create for a foster child facing incarceration. These ideas permeated speakers' comments to the HGSE students, alumni, faculty, and families, who gathered in Radcliffe Yard for the HGSE Convocation on June 3.
The precommencement celebration presents honors such as the Morningstar Family Teaching Award, the Alumni Council Award, Class Gift, and the HGSE Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Awards.
"You are alumni now...you cannot imagine how many doors are opening," said Ernesto Schiefelbein, Ed.D.'69, recipient of the 2009 Alumni Council Award.
Reflecting on the past 40 years, Schiefelbein recalled all the ways that HGSE, whether faculty or alumni, had shaped his career as a policymaker and educational reformer in developing countries. "As new alumni you are facing important decisions but you have the best professional training," he said. "I owe so much to this school."
For the student-selected faculty speaker, Professor Richard Elmore, it was not so much about the advice he could give but how much his students affected his own experience and what he has come to know about them. While a student who nominated him stated that "Elmore does it all," Elmore admitted that after accepting the invitation to speak he became afraid and had no idea what to tell graduates. After surveying typical commencement speech topics such as "always wear sunscreen" and the promising opportunities that lie ahead, Elmore felt he could only speak about the experiences he had with students as people "in life and learning."
"You have had an impact on us by being in this place," Elmore said, encouraging graduates to talk about the real institution and not what's in the catalog. "Be gentle, but be forceful."
Elmore shared all that he has come to know about the graduates — he admitted that he sometimes falls in love with his class — their brilliance, deep belief and commitments to the future, and admirable enthusiasm.
"We are sending you into a world that desperately needs your talents. It's a world in which we have largely defaulted on a promise of schooling as a route out of poverty and social mobility. The incoming inequality has never been as great as it is now here and abroad. The idea of America, which has traditionally defined the role of education in democratic societies, has become hopelessly corrupted by privilege," Elmore said. "It's a world that will test the limits of your uppityness. I've learned from working with you how much you have to contribute to working toward solutions to the problems."
But Elmore cautioned that it would not be easy to push against "the limits of established institutions.
"You will probably not be greeted with universal support and approval. In fact you will hear that you are entitled and pushy. You will hear it is your job to wait in line until the generation before you have served its time. You will hear that you have a lack of respect for the established way of doing things. And you will hear you are underqualified for the work you aspire to do, as if anyone were ever really qualified for their next job," he said.
Though Elmore initially said he would not offer any advice, he contended that he did have just one piece of advice for the class: "Take on the aspects of the existing order that you find most problematic and, if you don't succeed at changing them, then take your work outside of these institutions and make models that others can see and respect," he said. "If the existing order cannot make use of your talents, take your talents somewhere where they will be acknowledged and respected and build the alternative. The worst that can happen is that you will fail and start again."
Mark Hecker, Ed.M.'09, who was selected by a committee of faculty and staff in the Student Speaker Competition, expressed a similar desire through both song and speech for classmates to get busy in the education world. Looking back at the 2008 presidential campaign, Hecker noted how attuned Americans became to popular slogans such as "Yes we can." During his trip to Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama's inauguration, Hecker noted how there was one slogan Obama introduced that Americans didn't chant, "Get to work."
But it is in actions that graduates can make a difference, he said, sharing the story of his work with a teenager who had been in foster care for 15 years and attended eight schools. As the teen faced incarceration for armed robbery, Hecker worked as his counselor, even making sure that he did his homework while spending time at a psychiatric ward. The teen dismissed the homework as less important considering his pending jail time. "It could be the first or last time you go to jail - you choose," Hecker told the teen. Hecker shared that by the end of they year the student had failed every subject except citizenship, in which he got an A. Ultimately, the teen avoided jail time and got his life together, even earning a high school diploma. "When given the opportunity, he succeeded," Hecker said. "A host of our kids can do this."
However, Hecker asked his classmates, "What will we do?" urging them to take the Gandhi quote, "be the change you want to see in the world," off their Facebook pages and urging them to "get to work."
The complete list of honorees:
Student Speaker: Mark Hecker, Ed.M.'09
Morningstar Family Teacher Award: Associate Professor Monica Higgins
Alumni Council Award: Ernesto Schiefelbein, Ed.D.'69
Faculty Speaker: Professor Richard Elmore
Class Marshals: Ed.D. Benjamin Piper, Ed.M.'04
Sarah Fiarman, Ed.M.'05
Ed.M. Kimberly Dawson, Arts in Education
Kate Levine, Education Policy and Management
Brendan Russell, Higher Education
Julia Febiger, Human Development and Psychology
Siury Pulgar, International Education Policy
Anne Hoffman, Language and Literacy
Allison Rodden, Learning and Teaching
Rebecca Martin, Mind, Brain, and Education
Jamil Gilliam, Risk and Prevention
Bodo Heiliger, School Leadership
Laura Crandall, Special Studies
Alicia Henriquez, Teacher Education
Danielle Yumol, Technology, Innovation, and Education
Nicole Shadeed, Certificate of Advanced Study
Class Gift: $26,643.00 to support financial aid and fellowships.