Thursday, June 10, 2010

pomp & circumstance

Technically it's just a piece of paper. But here in Bolivia a college diploma is a pretty big deal.

It is, of course, a big deal to have a college degree in the U.S., too, but here it means something even more--particularly for young people who have grown up in the rural area. One can kind of understand the miracle of the achievement when you consider that Bolivia is a country where, according to a 2005 World Bank Report,* it was reported that in the year 2000 barely 15% of the population ages 15 and older had attained their high school degree.

Dona Panchita, a beloved cook on Campus Leahy and motherly figure to many of our students (and volunteers!), is pictured with her two daughters: Agronomy graduates Rosemary and Maria Ester Gutierrez and their two daughters.

There is also the use of the word "professional," which is used to indicate a person who has found their professional calling and received their college diploma. Whenever I ask parents of UAC-CP students what they want for their children, they tell me that they want them to be "professionals." And on the survey we are using with UAC-CP graduates, when asked how the UAC-CP made a difference in their lives, the most common response is: "It allowed me to be a professional."

"To be a professional," explained my co-worker and former UAC-CP student Gladys Rivera, "it means a lot to the people who struggled for the right to be educated. Until the agrarian reform of 1952, many of the poor and indigenous people of this country were banned from going to school. But today, that's different." Today, Gladys said, young people are better able to live lives of dignity and justice because of access to education.

Former classmates turned husband and wife, UAC-CP Veterinary Science graduates Dany Chambilla and Fico Carrizales show off their diplomas following graduation ceremonies. They are pictured with their children Daniel and Kristia.

On Wednesday as night I sat in a packed auditorium at the Catholic University of La Paz for commencement ceremonies** staring out on a sea of navy blue and gold colored caps and gowns, I couldn't help but imagine what the 10 UAC-CP students sitting out there in the mix were feeling and thinking as they waited for their names to be called so they could walk across the stage, accept their college degree, turn the tassel on their cap, and walk back to their seat...a professional.

*World Bank Report: Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education

**UAC-CP students technically graduate once tey successfully defend their thesis. However, because the thesis defenses happen on an individual, rolling basis there is generally no commencement ceremony here at the College. Our graduates do have the option to participate in the official pomp and circumstance at Catholic University where, donning cap and gown, their names are called to walk across the state and accept their diploma.

1 comment:

Brooke said...

How wonderful to see the graduates in their caps and gowns. I know it has been a long struggle for so many of our students. Big smile on my face about now....