In a Convocation ceremony filled with messages of hope, perseverance, and inspiration — and the rhythms of poetry — the Harvard Graduate School of Education affirmed its central mission as a community of learners dedicated to changing the world through education.
HGSE degree candidates, their faculty, and their friends and family members gathered for the annual ceremony in Radcliffe Yard on the warmest day of the spring — the sunny afternoon well matched to the mood of the graduating cohort .
“Lift up your eyes upon/This day breaking for you,” said Convocation speaker Freeman Hrabowski, beginning his talk with the transcendent words of Maya Angelou. Conjuring themes of justice and equality — drawing on the lessons of his mother and the history of the civil rights movement — he urged graduates to remain passionate about the power of education to transform lives.
Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland–Baltimore County (UMBC), has focused his career on breaking down barriers to opportunity and broadening access to higher education. As a mathematician, Hrabowski has particularly devoted himself to creating pathways in science, engineering, and math for underrepresented students and faculty, transforming his public institution, once a commuter school, into a prominent research center and an incubator of talent and ideas, said HGSE Dean James Ryan in introducing him. [Read the announcement of Hrabowski's selection as Convocation speaker.]
But there is much more work to do, Hrabowski said, pressing the degree candidates to always remember the potential that waits inside all people. His mother, a teacher of 40 years, taught him that “there are two types of people in our society — people whose dreams become a reality, and people whose dreams are, in the words of Langston Hughes, forever deferred. And she kept saying, ‘We, the teachers, make the difference.’”
Graduating from an institution where they received “the top education in the world,” HGSE graduates must play a role in helping people “learn to listen and to open their hearts and their minds to people who are different from ourselves, whatever those differences are. Whether it’s about sexuality, race, income, religion … we must teach Americans to get beyond their comfort zones, to get beyond people who look just like themselves, to open our hearts and our minds to the possibilities, and to listen to different perspectives,” he said.
Student speaker Donovan Livingston, an Ed.M. candidate in Learning and Teaching, delivered his address in the form of a spoken-word poetry performance. It was a stirring rejection of the status quo — and a soaring affirmation of the right to be heard, the right to strive, and the right of all children to know their potential. To be an educator, he said, is to chart the night skies — seeing the light in the eyes of every student, amid the darkness that surrounds.
“Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.”
Fernando Reimers, this year’s faculty speaker, urged his audience to remember the importance of engaging — both locally and globally. “To learn to change the world, as is our collective aspiration in this school, one must become a participant in trying to improve it,” he said. And that means that “we need to do this work in the world, the full 197 million square miles of the earth’s surface, and engaging with the full 7 billion humans who inhabit it.”
Tomorrow’s graduates will join the ranks of a global education movement, Reimers said, one that acknowledges that in today’s world, we are “inexorably bound to each other by the flows of air, water, people, ideas and the butterfly effects caused by our actions.” We will succeed or fail together, he affirmed. Today’s challenges are shared challenges; the world’s children are our children. “Our shared future, on this fragile planet, is entirely contingent on whether we succeed or fail in educating all of our children well.”
Among the other honors presented at Convocation were the Morningstar Family Teaching Award, the Alumni Council Award, the Phyllis Strimling Award, and the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Awards, along with the presentation of the 2016 class gift.
The complete list of Convocation honorees:
HGSE Convocation Speaker: Freeman Hrabowski
Convocation student speaker: Donovan Livingston, Ed.M. candidate in Learning and Teaching
Convocation Faculty Speaker: Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice in International Education
Phyllis Strimling Award: Mona Anchan, Ed.M. candidate in Mind, Brain, and Education
Morningstar Family Teaching Award: Gretchen Brion-Meisels
Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education: Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D.’02
Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Awards
AIE – Iliana Gutierrez
EPM – Jamarcus Purley
HDP – Jane Lee
HEP – Brian Mitchell
IEP – Leanne Trujillo
L&L – Thomas Grasso
L&T – Estefania Rodriguez
MBE – Rachel Hanebutt
PSP – Julissa Muniz
SLP – Maritza Torres
SSP – Elizabeth Ricketts
TEP – Kanku Kabongo
TIE – Elaine Townsend
Ed.D.: Lauren Elmore and Eve Ewing
Ed.L.D.: Alaina Harper and Francis Yasharian
CAS: Isabel Barros
AIE: Shanae Burch
EPM: Andrea Zuniga
HEd: Ryan Helling
HDP: Suzie Byers
IEP: Robin Goode
L&L: Maiba Bodrick
L&T: Andrew Rayner
MBE: Mona Anchan
PSP: Kara Lawson
SLP: Justin MacDonald
SSP: Erika Hillstead
TEP: Samaira Sirajee
TIE: Maheen Sahoo
The 2016 Class Gift: $19,229.09 for financial aid for the class of 2017 and beyond
Video of the event below: