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Convocation Honors for the Class of 2019

Dean Bridget Terry Long welcomed graduates, families, and distinguished speakers — and recognized HGSE’s Intellectual Contribution Award winners, Commencement marshals, Morningstar Award winner, and Phyllis Strimling Award recipients.

Watch a video of the 2019 Convocation ceremony here:

Presiding over her first Convocation as dean, Bridget Terry Long led the Harvard Graduate School of Education in honoring the Class of 2019, in a stirring ceremony under the tent on Radcliffe Yard today. 

In a series of rousing speeches, HGSE degree candidates were urged to look beyond the usual solutions and the typical frameworks, in order to escape the confines of bias, oppression, and inequality. They were urged to favor approaches that value, respect, and embrace the talents and needs of every student — and to stand, always, as fearless advocates of equity and inclusion. They were described as galvanized by their time at HGSE, and as ready galvanizers in the communities they will enter and serve. And they were exhorted to become "table-pounders" for justice, to remain committed to making change and rejecting complacency.

"We Must Change This"

“We have become impervious, desensitized, and numb — and we must change this,” said Convocation speaker Deborah Bial, Ed.M.’96, Ed.D.’04, in a rousing exhortation that challenged HGSE degree candidates to reject the racism, misogyny, and casual callousness that history has handed to us, society perpetuates, and too many of us passively tolerate.
 
“We need to make a conscious effort to look at our society in a reasonably objective way and to determine for ourselves what is worth keeping and what is harmful and destructive. It is our job, especially as educators, as people who work with children, to separate ourselves from what has become routine: a world of unfairness and inequality that can get reinforced in our classrooms and then in our board rooms,” Bial said. 
 
By refusing to deeply engage with the issues that challenge us — whether it be climate change, incidents of hate on college campuses, violence in schools, or the fact that nearly one-third of Americans live in poverty — we signal a willingness to accept what we know is wrong, Bial said. That can’t continue. Now is a time to be uncompromising and definitive, she said — a time to “not just separate but sever ourselves from that which we know is wrong.”
 
"We must change so that electing a black president, a woman president, a differently abled president, an openly gay president is nothing special. We must change so that we don’t confuse fear-mongering with patriotism, walls with safety, manipulators with leaders.” Routines can be comfortable and safe, Bial added — and we’re all prone to a bit of separation anxiety. But she said, “we need to find comfort not in what’s routine or habitual, but in the idea of change as an opportunity for something better — because it is the idea that we can change that should give us hope."
 

Questioning the Dominant Frames

Over a long and influential career, Professor Thomas Hehir has been an unparalled advocate for students with disabilities, their parents, and the educators who serve them. Selected by the Class of 2019 as Faculty Convocation Speaker, Hehir reflected on his experiences and cautioned students about the need to remain alert to the presence of discrimination and oppression in the everyday routines and structures of the world. Question those inherited frameworks, he added — those practices that seem workaday, benign, or well-meaning. When they're wrong, cast them aside.

Hehir conjured the memory of a favorite teacher — his uncle, who was also a Jesuit priest, and who counseled him “to always be skeptical of the dominant frames by which society addresses its perceived problems; those dominant frames can hide oppression and inequality.” 
 
He shared some of his own frame-shaking moments from throughout his career, generously describing the evolution in his thinking. One such moment came during the 1990s, while he was serving as director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs and was on a committee where he was the only “temporarily able-bodied person" in the group. "I brought up a policy issue — the fact that kids with disabilities were mostly excluded from state and federal testing programs. As a country we could not answer the question of whether students with disabilities were learning to read or whether they were proficient in mathematics. I thought of this purely as a policy issue. They had a different frame. 

"My boss, the noted disability activist Judy Heumann, responded, 'Don’t you get it Tom? It’s ableism! They (meaning people without disabilities) don’t believe we, people with disabilities, are capable.' The rest of the group nodded in agreement. . . .

"This was an epiphany for me. It changed my frame. I saw how many of the practices that I engaged in actually perpetuated ableism,  Though well meaning, we educators often focused on deficits and not strengths. Too often, we ignored the unique gifts that students with disabilities brought with them because of their disabilities. . . . It became clear to me that we as educators needed confront ableism, just as we need to confront racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia."

So — find the right frame, Hehir exhorted his audience. “Be the educator your students remember by teaching them how to think, not what to think," he said. "Be the educator who recognizes the power of education to cross boundaries. Be the educator willing to question the dominant frames of our times as you promote equity and inclusion, creating a better world for all.”

Be a Galvanizing Force 

Faith Yeung, selected as the 2019 Convocation Student Speaker, reflected on what she'd learned about HGSE over the past year — a year that began, for her, with Dean Long mentioning at Orientation that she was one of the youngest people in the new cohort of students. Amid all the year's challenges, Yeung said she'd come to understand that the abbreviation "HGSE" is about more than just the sound of its “hug-see” acronym. "This a school that humbles. This is a school that galvanizes. This is a school that stands for equity," she said.

It's easy to imagine how a new, young student may feel humbled in the presence of leading researchers, star faculty members, and peers with long lists of accomplishments. But Yeung learned that humility works in other ways, too. "Humility, I have learned, is even more valuable when it comes from the powerful, the knowledgeable, and the decorated who are always striving to improve themselves, and who understand that every person has a worthy story — young or old, man or woman, you or me."

She recalled the words of an HGSE alumnus visiting one of her classes, who said, "Your mind will never race as fast as it does in this school.” That galvanizing power, she said, will fuel the fires needed to sustain the graduating students in their work. "Maybe it was a sentence in one of your readings that answered a cry in your heart you thought no one heard; or maybe it was the dichotomy that you debated with a friend in Gutman Café until you both realized there was a third solution. The point is [that] while the injustices that perpetuate within our education systems may continue to daunt us, we are no longer paralyzed. Instead, this school has galvanized our minds to enter the race of a lifetime."

Yeung closed her speech with a wish: "Class of 2019: may we stay humble, stay galvanized, stand for equity, and stay “"hug-see"!

The complete list of HGSE Convocation honorees for 2019:

Convocation Speaker: Deborah Bial, Ed.M.'96, Ed.D.’04

Convocation Faculty Speaker: Thomas Hehir

Convocation Student Speaker: Faith Yeung, Ed.M. Candidate, International Education Policy

Phyllis Strimling Award: Alexandra Bachorik, Ed.M. Candidate, Specialized Studies; Izzah Ejaz, Ed.M. Candidate, Education Policy and Management
  
Morningstar Family Teaching Award: Joe McIntyre, Ed.M.’10, Ed.D.’17
 
Alumni Council Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education: Stella Flores, Ed.D.’07

2019 Intellectual Contribution Award Recipients:

2019 Commencement Marshals:

  • Ed.D.: Elizabeth Adelman and Deepa Vasudevan
  • Ed.L.D.: Shirley Vargas and Crystal Ward
  • CAS: Alessandra Scorzella
  • AIE: Kamila Muhammad
  • EPM: Langley Ellmann
  • HTF: Reuben Howard
  • HEd: Jason Terry
  • HDP: Winki Chan
  • IEP: Eliane Lakam
  • L&L: Miranda Watrous
  • L&T: Woojin Kim
  • MBE: April Finlayson
  • PSP: Nasia Turner
  • SLP: LaTrice Lyle
  • SSP: Kidist Tesfaye
  • TEP: Rachel McGirt
  • TIE: Jailyn Parnell

The 2019 Class Gift

This year’s Class Gift was presented by Rachel Eisner, Education Policy and Management, in the amount of $14,471.24. The Class Gift, consisting of contributions by members of the 2019 cohort, will be devoted to financial aid for the class of 2020 and beyond.

Contributing to the class gift is an act of generosity that does not come easily during a year when students are already having to make significant sacrifices simply to attend HGSE, as Eisner recognized. But although each member of the graduating cohort has sacrificed to be where they are, each has also "received a gift, at one time or another, that made this moment possible.

“While some of us will go on to lead classrooms, organizations, and even movements,” Eisner added, “I hope we will all continue to be leaders in promoting the gift of generosity.”

More information and complete coverage HGSE Commencement 2019.