Brattleboro Reformer: ‘Go forward, dare greatly’

 School For International Training graduates from left, Susan Magdalen Wood Bardasz, Amanda Marie Bohne, Daniela Cazacu, Papa Bouna Fall and Meghen Fitzgibbens applaud their keynote speaker during the commencement ceremony, Saturday in Brattleboro. (Kimberly Hatch/Reformer)

School For International Training graduates from left, Susan Magdalen Wood Bardasz, Amanda Marie Bohne, Daniela Cazacu, Papa Bouna Fall and Meghen Fitzgibbens applaud their keynote speaker during the commencement ceremony, Saturday in Brattleboro. (Kimberly Hatch/Reformer)

‘Go forward, dare greatly’

by Chris Garofolo, Brattleboro Reformer
Monday, June 2

BRATTLEBORO – While the skies over the SIT Graduate Institute were overcast Saturday morning, the gray clouds could not dampen the mood during the school’s commencement ceremony.

Carol Bellamy, the president and CEO of World Learning, wished graduates and attendees a “dry instead of warm” welcome in hopes the rain would hold off until after the ceremony. Her comments were successful as the showers kept their distance throughout the commencement.

Family members, friends, classmates and well-wishers filled the front lawn, snapping photos of the students and exchanging salutations in many languages.

Then to the sounding of a gong and a percussion line lead by Steve Leicach and Tony Vacca, the faculty and graduates made their way to their seats as the crowd of more than 200 applauded and cheered.

Students wore traditional academic regalia, but with a twist to represent the international and intercultural aspects of the school’s mission.

Some wore robes stitched by hand by Lahu Hill tribe women in Thailand as part of the Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment project. Others dressed in robes produced by the Ecumenical Women’s Centre in Ghana which displayed the adinkra designs symbolizing humility, strength, wisdom, excellence, bravery and unity in diversity.

The remaining robes, crafted by the women’s cooperative known as Nahuit in El Salvador, had materials purchased from a weaving cooperative in Guatemala. The members of the sewing and embroidery collaborative produce handcrafted clothing representing the cultures of both Latin American nations.

Following the opening remarks from Bellamy and the board of trustees, Joseph Sebarenzi concentrated his keynote speech on acceptance and standing up for what is right and just.

Sebarenzi, an SIT graduate and faculty member since 2003, was born in Rwanda and sent to school in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo to escape the violence against Tutsis.

His lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation – “Try to do good, even if people have wronged you,” – came from personal experience when his parents and seven siblings were killed during the genocide in 1994.

People cannot change what has happened, but they can change what is to come, he said, noting he would not have survived the anger of his family tragedy if he had not learned to accept the past and look forward to create a better future.

“Rise up and continue your journey,” and embrace the obstacles and promises of life, he said.

The challenges of the future are not insurmountable, he told the students. The wisdom beyond gender, race and culture will create a peaceful world with acceptance and standing up for what is right, he said.

It could take years or even centuries, but it is worth the price, Sebarenzi said, speaking from personal experience when he led efforts to democratize and strengthen the power of the legislative branch as speaker of the Rwandan Parliament.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela paid the price by spending 27 years in prison, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. paid the ultimate price for the fight against segregation and many of the early women’s suffrage leaders died before they were granted the right to vote, said the Rwandan teacher.

“In each case, those people stood for what is right.”

Next year, Sebarenzi will publish a memoir titled “God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Story of Survival and Reconciliation” with Simon & Schuster about his experience and life’s work.

Although the international campus has been in Brattleboro for 75 years, the institute only started having a commencement ceremony in 1994. Roughly 85 students were present during the celebration; more than 250 others completed degree requirements but were unable to attend.

Yoko Hisano, graduating with a master of arts in international education, said a wide range of emotions were flowing through her following the commencement.

“It’s a good feeling, a very positive feeling,” she said, expressing sentiments of relief, excitement, but also nervousness about the future.

One of her classmates, Shawo Mwakilama, graduating with a masters of arts in sustainable development, said he is interested in heading back to his native Malawi to assist in developing the economy.

All the participants in the graduation took Bellamy’s initial remarks about creating hope and awareness around the world to heart as they continue they careers.

“Dear graduates, go forward and dare greatly,” she said.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.

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