A Celebratory Weekend

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Dean’s Blog

UntitledThis past weekend marked MSU’s commencement ceremonies, with over 9,000 students across the university receiving degrees (including those graduating both this spring and summer).  There are a number of different ceremonies, and the College of Education was well represented across many of them.

Celebrating doctoral degree recipients in the Kiva.

Celebrating doctoral degree recipients in the Kiva.

The weekend started on Friday morning when we held the college’s Doctoral Convocation, where close to 60 Ph.D. and Ed.S. candidates were hooded by their faculty advisors.  The Erickson Kiva was full as the candidates, their advisors, and many family members attended the ceremony.  It was wonderful to hear how many of the graduates have already accepted jobs – most of which are faculty and post-doc positions – and are embarking on the next stage of their careers.

I was also struck by how many of them had participated in some form of international experience during their doctoral training.  Many of these are international students who had come to us for a Ph.D. after studying in their home countries.  Many others had conducted research in other countries either as part of their dissertation work, or in conjunction with a faculty-led project on which they worked as a research assistant.  Still others had participated in our Fellowship to Enhance Global Understanding study tours, in which we provide an opportunity for all of our doctoral students to engage in an intensive trip to study the educational systems in such countries as China, Vietnam, Botswana, Cyprus, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Azim Premji speaking at the 2014 Undergraduate Convocation

Friday afternoon was the university’s Undergraduate Convocation, held at the Breslin Center.  Because each college at the university conducts its own undergraduate commencement ceremony where students receive their degrees, the Undergraduate Convocation is the university-wide celebration of the graduating baccalaureate students.  The College of Education was the host for the speaker at the ceremony, and one of the university’s honorary degree recipients this spring, Azim Premji.  Mr. Premji is chairman of the India-based technology firm Wipro Ltd., and founder of the Azim Premji Foundation.  As I have written earlier, the College of Education has been working over the last few years with the foundation to help build the first stand-alone teachers university in India.  Mr. Premji spoke of three “core attributes of great achievement and success, across all cultures and across all times: hard work, perseverance and integrity.”

Later on Friday, the university-wide Advanced Degrees Commencement ceremony was held at the Breslin Center.  Over 300 College of Education master’s, doctoral, and educational specialist degrees were awarded at the ceremony.

Carlotta Walls Lanier

Carlotta Walls Lanier

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the college held its Undergraduate Commencement, also at the Breslin Center, where approximately 500 of our students were awarded their bachelor’s degrees.  Our speaker was Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, the group that first integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.  Ms. LaNier (shown at the top of this post in a photo from that era as part of our most recent New Educator magazine cover story) gave a spirited and moving address.  From my position on the stage I could see that the thousands in the audience were rapt with attention as she shared her story of being 14 years old and facing hatred, bigotry, and violence in her quest for, as she described it, “the best education I could get.” She was one of nine African American youth among over 2,000 white students.  Ms. LaNier persevered, and eventually graduated from Central High School and enrolled in Michigan State University.  As she finished her address, many in the audience were in tears (including those of us on the stage), and the audience burst into applause and jumped to their feet in appreciation.

The audience at our commencement also had the opportunity to hear from two of our graduating seniors.  Julia Ruggirello, a special education major, told her inspiring story (also featured in our latest magazine) of living with cystic fibrosis, and working to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.  Mario Scarpinato, a kinesiology major, shared with the audience his experience of playing for the Spartans in the Rose Bowl, and of his path to medical school next year.

Commencement is generally one of my favorite times of the year, and this year’s celebration exceeded my expectations.  It is always a joy to see all the happy graduates and their families celebrating what they have worked so hard for over so many years.  I wish all of them the best of luck, and hope that they will stay in touch with us as their careers progress.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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