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Lolo tells ASCC grads: “Be a Samoan first…”

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga during his special remarks at last Friday’s American Samoa Community College Fall Commencement at the ASCC Gymnasium.  [photo: Leua Aiono Frost]
Before you become a doctor, or lawyer or whatever profession you want

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has challenged the American Samoa Community College to educate and instill in students that they are Samoans, who respect — among other things — the environment, culture and language — before choosing a profession for the future.

According to the governor, students who learn first who they are as a Samoan, will go off island to get an education and will return home to “serve our people.”

This was the focus of the governor’s special remarks at last Friday’s ASCC Fall semester 2017 graduation, at the ASCC gymnasium, where the commencement speaker was William Ena Spitzenberg, the co-valedictorian of his 1996 ASCC graduating class, who earned a degree in civil engineering and now serves as Chief Water Engineer for ASPA.

At the start of his remarks Lolo expressed appreciation to the graduates for selecting an American Samoan, an ASCC alumnus, to deliver the commencement address. He said that by doing so, it sends a clear message that “our own sons and daughters” are prepared to serve American Samoa.

According to the governor, he had spoken with ASCC and its president as to whether students are being taught to prepare their lives to attend higher education off island seeking higher degrees.

After graduation, ASCC and “the rest of us here will just be memories of your past,” he told graduates but added that the question is, “do you really know who you are; has the college prepared you to be yourself and to be somebody, so that when you leave [here], you know who you are? That’s the biggest challenge our college is facing today.”

“First, and the truth is that, you are Samoan, and we are Samoan,” according to the governor, who noted that he had informed ASCC to be sure that every graduate knows first that he/she is Samoan and being a lawyer, or a doctor, or engineer, or what ever the chosen profession is — comes later.

“Why? Because being Samoan was bestowed by God, who put all of us on these islands and blessed us with abundance of resources, our culture and language,” he said, and shared his belief as governor that any student who has Samoan blood must first be taught about being Samoan, “who you are” so when the  student goes off island, “you will know first that you are Samoan.”

He said that there are many “good Samoan values” — respect, love, humility — that should be the first and a priority in the life of a Samoan student before heading off island to search for a brighter future.

He told graduates that they are “Samoans and this comes first.” The governor pointed out that there are many known good examples when it comes to the relationship between the U.S. and its possessions in the Pacific — such as Hawai’i, when it was a US territory before being a state, and the territory of Guam.

However, he claims that there is a “big disconnect between the people” — referring to the native inhabitants of Hawai’i and Guam — and their “environment.”

“Now they are fighting back to restore their culture, their language, and their everything,” the governor said. “If this deterioration continues, they will find themselves homeless in their own land…”

He told graduates that this could become a devastating issue for American Samoa — because graduates didn’t give priority to being Samoan first and their chosen profession coming later — “in the end, we will be homeless in our own land. Why? Because you have no respect for your environment, as well as culture and tradition.”

Additionally there is no respect and belief “in your own native language.”

“A language is something that God has given as a gift to all mankind,” he said, adding that what is happening in Hawai’i and Guam — their native language has started to fade away.

Lolo then recalled earlier in the ceremony where ASCC President Dr. Rosevonne Makaiwi-Pato called on graduates heading off island for higher degrees to “return home to serve our people.”

In his last 40 years of service in government, Lolo said he has observed that “those students who developed to be Samoans first, before they go off island to further their education and other benefits” return home to serve the people.

But “those who put their profession before being a Samoan — they just leave here and you never see them again,” he said, and cited for example those seeking to be a medical doctor whom after been given “a lot of government money” through scholarships, they don’t come back home upon earning lots of money off island.

“Why? They never wanted to become Samoan first. So it is a challenge to the [ASCC] president, college and the board. It is your duty is to teach and educate these young people to become real Samoans,” he said.

In conclusion, the governor told graduates, “be a Samoan first, before you become an attorney, or a doctor... then we are guaranteed that you will go out, and you will return to serve your people.”

He also wished graduates the best for their future and congratulated them for achieving this milestone in their lives.