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HGSE Presents 2018 Convocation Honors

Dean James E. Ryan welcomes all graduates and guests and introduces the afternoon's speakers. Recipients of the HGSE Intellectual Contribution Awards are recognized along with the Commencement marshals, and the winner of the Phyllis Strimling Award.

Watch video of the 2018 Convocation ceremony below:

As the Harvard Graduate School of Education honored the Class of 2018 at a picture-perfect Convocation ceremony, degree candidates were urged to envision a future where the ideal school can become the real school, and where desperation can become the motivator that sparks innovation and urgent change. They were reminded that at a moment where millions of people are striving for a new kind of freedom, educators must join — and lead — that quest.

“This is a freedom moment,” said Convocation speaker John Silvanus Wilson Jr., speaking to graduating students, families, faculty, and friends on a sunny afternoon in Radcliffe Yard. “Embrace the freedom energy as you move into the world. More than merely embrace it, I encourage you to find a way to inform it, and be informed by it; to inspire it, and be inspired by it; to elevate it, and be elevated by it.”

The Quest for Freedom — and “Second-Day” Freedom

Wilson urged his audience to realize that the quest for freedom, embodied by the marches and activism we see all around us today, also “innately dwells in every human soul, and perhaps in the soul of life itself.” Each person possesses that spark, but for too many children, the spark is never lit, and the quest for freedom is never nurtured. To correct that — to reach and inspire students whose needs have been neglected — educators must “awaken in them the impulse to be the authors of their own freedom,” he said.

At Morehouse, “we leaned on Mark Twain, who said this, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.’

“We urged our students to remain open to having your second day. That is the day you find out why you were born; that is the day you realize your calling in life; that is the day you are awakened to the purpose you were born knowing ... this second-day power is within you... . Whatever you call it, it is the day when the truth of your life finally connects with the truth of all life. And when that happens, you are as free as you possibly can be.”

But this kind of freedom is much more rare than it should be, Wilson said. “So few of us experience the freedom of discovering who we are and why we’re here. That can and must change. And educators can and must change it. And we know how to do it.”

Wilson concluded his remarks by citing Harvard University’s motto, Veritas. He said it was appropriately central to the university’s mission — and that it was directly tied to the “freedom spirit” he had invoked in his Convocation address today. In the words of the Gospel of John, Wilson said, “Once you know the truth, the truth shall set you free.”

Envisioning Schools in Wakanda

Faculty speaker Karen Mapp urged graduates to imagine what schools are like in the fictional nation of Wakanda, the African utopia depicted in the film Black Panther. She created a video in which she asked HGSE community members what schools in Wakanda would be like — what would teaching be like, what would classrooms look like?

Watching and listening to the responses she got, Mapp said she was struck by how “exuberant, passionate, joyous, spontaneous, wondrous, confident, creative, loving, and unapologetic” people were as they imagined the kind of education system that a technologically and culturally advanced society like Wakanda would have. Their imaginings possessed what Angela Glover Blackwell described as “radical imagination,” Mapp said — “that kind of imagination that’s glorious, improvisational, courageous, that doesn’t take no for an answer, that doesn’t let anything stand in its way.”

Amid what has been a difficult year, Mapp said, “I am hopeful, more hopeful than I’ve been in a while. And that hope comes primarily from this radical imagination, this radical courage, this radical leadership, that I’ve seen in our students.” They stand committed to creating “Wakanda-like schools and opportunities for all of our children,” Mapp said, calling on everyone gathered under the tent to get ready to join them.

Becoming Desperate for Change

The Convocation’s student speaker, Edyson Julio, began his talk with a glimpse inside Rikers Island Jail, recounting the story of 18-year-old Jacob, who was a student in one of the classes Julio taught at the jail. Jacob was facing a prison sentence of 17 years for a nonviolent drug offense. To find relief amid the stress and deprivation, he ingeniously managed to figure out how to spark fire from a battery, allowing him to light a cigarette.

In recounting the story, Julio urged his fellow degree candidates — graduating from an institution where “we have everything anyone could ever need to start a fire” — to notice that there is one thing that Jacob had, and one thing they’ll need: the desperation it takes to make change.

“Today I challenge you all with this question: What are you desperate for? We talk about equity in education for all, but are we desperate for it? We talk about candor in curriculums, but are we desperate for it? We talk about liberation pedagogy; we talk about freedom — but yo, are we desperate for it?”

For this graduating class, Julio says, “I am confident I know the answer. We are desperate. We are desperate for change.”

He asked his audience to join him in making this pledge (which they did, repeating after him): “I will start a fire, whether you give me nothing or you give me everything — because I am desperate for change.”

The complete list of Convocation honorees for 2018:

HGSE Convocation Speaker: John Silvanus Wilson Jr., Ed.M.’82, Ed.D.’85

Convocation student speaker: Edyson Julio, Arts in Education

Convocation Faculty Speaker: Karen Mapp, Lecturer on Education

Phyllis Strimling Award: Aimee Furdyna, Human Development and Psychology

Morningstar Family Teaching Award: Elizabeth City, Senior Lecturer on Education

Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education: Douglas Wood, Ed.M.’96, Ed.D.’00 

2018 Intellectual Contribution Award Recipients:

2018 Commencement Marshals:

  • Ed.D.: Shireen Al-Adeimi, Stephany Cuevas
  • Ed.L.D.: Stephanie Downey-Toledo, Jordy Sparks
  • C.A.S.: Erin MacNeil      
  • Arts in Education: Vanessa Chung    
  • Education Policy and Management: James Hankins
  • Harvard Teacher Fellows: Gianina Yumul
  • Higher Education: Wil Torres
  • Human Development and Psychology: Christina Koutsourades
  • International Education Policy: Beatriz Helena Giraldo M.
  • Language and Literacy: Sabrina Alicea
  • Learning and Teaching: Sarah Baver         
  • Mind, Brain, and Education: Hannah Pereira
  • Prevention Science and Practice: Jordan Harrison   
  • School Leadership: Maisha Rounds    
  • Specialized Studies: Eli Center
  • Teacher Education: Julia Lawler
  • Technology, Innovation, and Education: Peter Nguyen

The 2018 Class Gift, presented by Isabelle Rivers-McCue, Human Development and Psychology: $24,022.77 for financial aid for the class of 2019 and beyond