They "Believed and Achieved" their dream
On Wednesday, November 23, 2011, the day before Thanksgiving, American Samoa's Middle Level M.Ed. (MLMED) Cohort 1 members gathered at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei for their commencement ceremony which began with words of gratitude and ended with hugs, happy tears, and of course, diplomas.
This cohort was the first University of Hawaii/ ASDOE partnership to tackle a Masters degree program in Education in the territory. In the end, 26 graduated with their masters, 24 who studied with the cohorted version of the program, and two others who started earlier and proceeded on their own.
This number of graduates at one time is a tremendous feat, when one considers per capita and for a population of our size noted MLMED director, Dr. Paul Deering.
Officially, the Master of Education Degree in Curriculum Studies with a Middle Level Emphasis addresses the needs of educators who work with children 10 to 18 years of age, providing teachers tools, guidelines and understanding that equip them for the task.
Said Gov. Togiola Tulafono, during his address, "Without a four year college on island, we felt this... the cohort program... was the best we could do for our teachers... the least disruptive way to help them."
"The key to quality education is in quality teachers" he affirmed... and to the graduates he added, "by completing this course, you've shown that you do believe."
He acknowledged "with great gratitude" the special partnership between University of Hawaii and American Samoa's Department of Education, which made this program possible. He said to the representatives of UH Manoa, "you have never left us... through thick and thin, you have stuck with us... in spite of our limited resources. Thank you all."
Dr. Deering in his special remarks said, "It is our honor to partner with you... and an honor to call you "cousins" he added, drawing laughter, as the Governor had earlier turned to the UH visitors and said, "We're all cousins, right?"
The cohort motto, said Deering, was a fusion of Samoan and Hawaiian - "Talitonu a Ho'oko" - Believe and Achieve.
Dr. Deering explained that the focus for this Cohort was on teaching teens in the "Middle Level" years and that MLMED has been a distinguished program at UH, boasting over 300 graduates, four Fulbright Scholarships and 17 university instructors, with a 90% completion rate... in no small part due to the tremendous support given by the UH faculty advisers.
In this particular cohort, he said, were 25 American Samoa students, all funded by ASDOE.
The MLMED program also pioneered the development of the electronic "online classroom" said Deering, where student/teachers participate in discussions and asides, turn in homework, receive advice, and take tests.
Dr. Deborah Zuercher, UH Associate Professor and cohort adviser, described the master level program as standards-based, which nurtures candidates' understanding of adolescents, content knowledge, instructional expertise and teacher leadership skills.
Keynote commencement speaker Dr. Christine Sorenson, Dean of the UH Manoa College of Education acknowledged in her opening remarks the 30 plus years of a successful partnership between UH College of Education and ASDOE.
Quoting poet Carl Sandburg, she said, "Nothing happens, but first- the dream."
She posited that determination and patience were characteristics which the graduates will need to go forward, and declared to them without hesitation, "You are up to the challenge! You have believed... and you have achieved!"
Dr. Sorenson reminded the audience that during this cohort, the students had to cope with everything life threw at them - including a natural disaster (the tsunami of 2009); the loss of close family members and loved ones; and illness and surgeries. She said that family crises of every kind were endured as the students moved through their courses, and most were juggling work, family, church and village obligations at the same time.
(It was not all rocky... as one couple - now happily married - met thru Cohort, and completed the Masters program together, she said)
She reminded the graduates that theirs was "no small accomplishment" as UH Manoa College of Education is ranked 35th in over 3000 Education Colleges throughout the nation.
She challenged them to be leaders, to be passionate about their work, and to be fearless. She told them of their obligation to give back to their community, saying "service is better than selfishness." She encouraged them to promote unity and harmony among their students, for "each child is unique."
Class president Iose A. Muasau offered the final remarks conveying his gratitude to everyone who helped to make their dreams a reality. "...Our success is the success of the people of American Samoa," he noted.
An unexpected highlight of Wednesday's program was an impromptu a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace" by Dr. Curry. Saying that she wanted to give a special gift to the students; she delivered and the audience -mesmerized by her powerful voice - accompanied her last verse with a magnificent four-part harmony.
Samoa News would like to congratulate all those who Believed and Achieved this landmark for the territory, and advise that there is more to come!
There is a second graduate cohort of UH candidates who are hoping for ASDOE financial support to complete their master's degrees in 2012, as over fifty earnest individuals have signed a petition expressing interest in joining the next UH graduate cohort scheduled to begin next summer.