Willimantic, Conn. - "Success isn't determined by your position or pay scale, but by what you do best. Maximize the value of your education and engage it with your passion. You can make a difference!" That's what keynote speaker Charlene Russell-Tucker, associate commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, told 45 educators from Jamaica who graduated on Aug. 4 from Eastern Connecticut State University with bachelor's degrees in sociology.
The ceremony was held at Eastern for the first time since its inception in 2000. Previous Commencement ceremonies were held in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Russell urged the graduates to find their voice. "As educators who have completed another phase, you have been called into service as agents of change," Russell-Tucker said.
As a token of their appreciation, the students presented two paintings of Jamaican scenery to Eastern Executive Vice President Michael Pernal, which he accepted on behalf of the University. The paintings will be installed in the Julian Akus gallery and become part of the University Collection.
In giving his charge to the graduates, Michael Pernal, Eastern's executive vice president, thanked the students for their diligence and reminded them never to lose their thirst for knowledge. "This degree is a gift that can be turned around and used as another gift," said Pernal. "Give it to your community and your countrymen, and your education will have value not only for you, but whomever you touch in the future as well."
The program for the Jamaican educators allows them to complete courses in their home country as well as on Eastern's campus in Willimantic. The program is offered through Eastern's School of Continuing Education in collaboration with the Hanover Education Foundation in Jamaica. This year's graduates are the program's third cohort of students.
The goal of the program is to provide a bachelor's degree completion option to teachers who have gone to teachers college in Jamaica, which is equivalent to a two-year associate's degree in the United States. Regulations implemented by Jamaica's Ministry of Education now require that all Jamaican teachers have a bachelor's degree.
Jamaican students enjoying the Commencementceremony
"This day represents a new chapter in our lives and will bring forth new challenges," said graduate Veronica Samuels-Rhoden. "It is an opportunity to access new accomplishments and to achieve them as inventors of the future in both our personal and professional lives."
The unique aspect of the Eastern program is a residency that requires the students to participate in a five-week summer program on Eastern's Willimantic campus, taking three courses for nine credits. "Participants are given an excellent opportunity to advance their education and career goals. In addition, the program makes it possible for them to excel in the classroom, community and in their own personal development," said Shelly Gimenez, dean of the School of Continuing Education.
Jamaican students enjoy reading the Commencement program.
The inspiration for the Jamaica program came from the late Reverend Collin Bennett '81. Bennett wanted to establish a mutually beneficial link between Eastern and Jamaica, so he encouraged Eastern to develop a relationship with the Hanover Education Foundation in Jamaica. Beverley Anderson, former dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and a native of Jamaica, established contact with the Hanover Education Foundation, gained support on campus, and launched the program.
Father Lynch, of Lucea, gives invocation.
"I am humbled and grateful to work with a University like Eastern that understands the importance of education," said Reverend Father Percival Lynch, chair of the Hanover Education Foundation and one of the founders of the program. Lynch traveled from Jamaica to attend the ceremony.
"With Shelly Gimenez, the Bennett family and Eastern, we have seen the program grow tremendously. The cohort helps to provide more training for our educators who will use their experience at Eastern and bring them back to the island of Jamaica where everyone will prosper."
CSUS Chancellor David G. Carter
David G. Carter, chancellor of the Connecticut State University System (CSUS), also spoke at the ceremony. "Always remember that the lives you have touched will touch children whose lives have yet to be born. You have made your rich Jamaican heritage very proud."