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by Margaret Mann

I have been to graduations. I have been to graduation parties. But this was the first time the graduation was the party! 

Heald College Graduation April 2012 was held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom.  My client Robin who had come to me years ago with self-esteem issues was now graduating with a 4.0 average in Business Administration. I was so very proud of her, I could have burst my buttons were I wearing any.

The elevator to the ballroom was very crowded. We had to wait a long time as the people on the lower floors filled up the cars before they reached us. For some reason the stairs ended on the floor below the ballroom. We found out later there was an escalator connecting the floors.

The room was laid out in typical graduation style. A center stage, empty chairs for the graduates in the center of the room and chairs for family and friends in a huge semi-circle around them. A delightful student took our tickets but was clueless about where the wheelchair should sit. But, she was an earnest young woman and got a hold of two other earnest young women, rearranged the chairs and put me in the front row next to the graduates.

A group called the Academics was singing onstage. Seven young men all dressed alike in suits and ties singing a song like those you hear on those on American Idol. A faculty member called the group to order and asked the graduates to process in. And of course they played Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance over the PA system.

The invocation was delivered by a Pentecostal minister. It was long and spoke often of God’s plan for us. Turns out she was the psychology professor. Hmm…

After the graduates were seated a very loud, very vivacious group of men (most likely Samoans) whooped and shouted their way to the stage where they commenced to do a very loud, vigorous, stamping, arm slapping, dance. I have to admit this was a very different start to a graduation than I had ever experienced. A young woman sitting directly behind me was clearly related to the young men as she whooped and shrieked in an ear-splitting support of their performance. She continued to do this almost every time something happened on the stage. As did the people sitting to my side. A little disconcerting to say the least.

Heald College is a community college dedicated to training of pharmacy aides, hospital aides and para-legals and small number of business administrative assistants. The crowd was a wonderful representation of modern Hawaii. The audience as well as the graduates was 99% people of color. The majority of the assembled were South Pacific islanders and Filipino representing immigrant Hawaii. There was a small smattering of haoles (the name for Caucasians in Hawaii) in the audience and the majority of the faculty were older haole women with sensible shoes. Polite applause for the old haole women, but loud screaming and whooping and hollering for the “local boy” Student Services Director and his staff most of whom were previous graduates from the school. The clear favorites.

There were awards given for the students who earned anything above a 3.5 average. The color lines divided at the 4.0 level, almost all of the eight or ten haoles among the graduates earned a 4.0. The Outstanding Student Award went to a single mom who had earned good grades and participated in a number of service projects. The most surprising award was one for Perfect Attendance…at a college. There were many award categories.  I suspect this was deliberate on the part of the administration. Many of these graduates had just attained their highest level of education they were ever going to earn and deserved all the credit they could get.

There were two graduate speakers elected to the give a valedictorian address to the graduates. Both women were single mothers, both had graduated from high school and gone on welfare and now both were moving on seeking a better life for their children. The stories moved me to tears and I found myself earnestly praying that they succeed, that all this effort leads to something good.

The Student Services Director gave the keynote speech. Closely related the Pentecostal preacher but funny. Had the audience in stitches. But was keen to make the point that 85% of children born to parents who earn degrees also go on to earn degrees. He stressed that their graduation was going impact their family for generations for come. He pointed to a group of small children playing near the stage. You are doing this for them, he said. A very different theme from the usual college graduation address where the graduates are told that they are the ones who are going to change the world. Clearly pharmacy and hospital aides and para legals are probably not going to change the wider world as we know it, but there they were setting about changing their world.

The Mistress of Ceremonies had the students who were the first in their family to earn a degree stand. One half of the graduates stood up. She also asked the single parents to stand. One third of the graduates stood up.

The Academics came back on stage and Director of Student Services joined them, as did a female staff member who was an excellent singer. The whole ceremony was light hearted and fun. The administration does this three times a year and had it down to a science. The graduates collected their diplomas and very well orchestrated march across the stage and we joined the swirling mass of graduates and their large extended families in the foyer. The excitement was palatable as moms, dads, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, buried the graduates in leis.

I am very glad I went. 

April 21, 2012


 


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