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DOE ends high school “val” graduation speeches

The American Samoa Department of Education has made changes to public high school graduation ceremonies beginning this year with the elimination of valedictorian speeches, with the main goal to focus attention on all of the graduates and keep the ceremony down to less than two hours.


However, Tafuna High School parents and teachers association president Milton Taufa’asau says valedictorians should be given the chance to address the ceremonies even if it’s only for five minutes because they have succeeded in this milestone in their young lives.


It’s a known fact that local graduation ceremonies run between three to four hours — or even longer — especially at schools with high numbers of graduates and more than two valedictorians, and sometimes more than one salutatorian. Award giving also contributes to the added burden of sitting and waiting… and waiting… to offer congratulations.


DOE director Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau met last Thursday with high school principals and their Parents and Teachers Association presidents where she outlined the DOE proposal, which calls for only one key speaker, who is the commencement speaker, and the only awards presented on graduation day will be for ASG scholarship recipients.


Also proposed was that there will be no speeches by valedictorians, because in past years some graduation ceremonies have more than two Valedictorians, who all give speeches, making the ceremony longer (THS has been known to have 5 at one time, with each giving a speech, while others rarely have less than two.).


“And we have agreed that the high school graduations shall not take more than two hours. We have also prescribed that all award assemblies to recognize students, who have academically attained the awards to be conducted the day before, or days before the graduation,” said Hunkin-Finau on KVZK-TV on Monday — making it an official announcement, saying DOE and PTAs along with school principals have agreed to the new policy.


“We’d like to have the high school graduations as simple as possible, and we hope it doesn't go beyond two hours. Commencement speakers will the be the only key speakers at the graduation.” (This is in addition to special remarks to be delivered by the governor.)


She says valedictorians and salutatorians will not be giving speeches beginning this year. However, “we want to recognize them at the graduation where they can come forth at the podium to be recognized along with their parents for such an achievement,” she added.




While supportive of DOE, the Tafuna PTA president Milton Taufa’asau said valedictorians should be given the chance to give their speeches on graduation day and he proposed at the DOE/PTA meeting to limit valedictorian speeches to only five minutes. “This was a compromise, or option, from our PTA as I was speaking on behalf of all parents,” he told Samoa News yesterday.


“The valedictorians — we believe — should be given the recognition they deserve after their achievements throughout the four years of high school,” said Taufa’asau, who added that he was also concerned that it was such short notice given by DOE of changes to ceremonies with graduation season only about four weeks away.


Taufa’asau said he also proposed that instead of each business representative making a speech and giving awards to the recipient, allow the school principal on graduation day to make give a speech thanking all of the companies for their support of students, who are the future of American Samoa, and present the awards.


Taufa’asau says the outcome of the DOE/PTA meeting is now being disseminated to parents as they prepare for the June 4th ceremony, where about 318 students are expected to graduate from THS. He said the school’s award night is set for May 29th.




Asked for reaction to the new DOE graduation ceremony policy, Samoana High School PTA president Tone Tamali’i said that as a parent, “I don’t see anything wrong” with DOE’s new policy, adding that the way graduation ceremonies were carried out has been there for many years.


Tamali’i also said that the director had brought up during the meeting that the gradation ceremony is for the “whole class” to be honored and recognized, not just those who are at the top of the class.


DOE also didn’t believe that a graduating student should be giving recommendations and guidance to another fellow student moving forward, he said, adding that the commencement speaker — an adult — has that key role.


He said what DOE was saying is that past graduations have been too long and it has been taken out of context and they want parents to understand their point of view.


“The focus of a graduation is students, and the key note speaker provides words of wisdom and encouragement for graduates as they seek a brighter future,” he said.


Tamali’i shared with Samoa News that the Samoana PTA has worked on reducing the time involved in the ceremony, by limiting or eliminating certain practices from previous years. For example, the practice of giving graduates publicly their flower garlands or ula along with decorative balloons is done after the ceremony.


The Samoana PTA is scheduled to meet later this afternoon and the main focus is the preparations for graduation. Tamali’i said he will share with the PTA members the outcome of the meeting with DOE. He says the PTA will finalize everything following the meeting.


SHS graduation date as well as the date for the PTA award night will be announced soon by the school.




Leone PTA president  Leiseau Vaito’elau Laumoli says he agrees with the move by DOE to shorten the graduation ceremony time.


“Everyone, parents, family and friends most likely comment on how good the graduation ceremony was, however if only the ceremony was shorter… these are comments by people we hear almost every year during these graduations,” he said. “And I’m happy that the DOE has moved to tackle this issue.”


Asked if he agreed that the Valedictorian speech should also be removed from the ceremony, Leiseau says it’s his understanding it’s up to each school what they want and if they agree to have their valedictorian make a speech then so be it.


Leone will soon release the date of its graduation and their award night.




Samoa News understands Manu’a High School was not present at the meeting due to transportation scheduling; but, were told via telephone.


In future editions, Samoa News will be bringing comments from the remaining three high schools — Fagaitua, Nu’uuli VocTech and Manu’a, about the new rules.


Also, we will be checking with the private high schools to see if they follow suit. However, Samoa News notes private high schools generally have a much smaller number of graduates and their graduation ceremonies are usually no more than 2 hours long, with the possible exceptions of Kanana Fou and Fa’asao/Marist High School.