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Education is a ‘great way to spend your life,’ Stanford graduates told

Professor Kenji Hakuta told graduates that education is, "a great way to spend your life." (Photo: Sofiia Kukhar)
Professor Kenji Hakuta told graduates that education is, "a great way to spend your life." (Photo: Sofiia Kukhar)

Education is a ‘great way to spend your life,’ Stanford graduates told

At commencement, Stanford education graduates are urged to heal social rifts, build community and marvel at the wonders of learning.

Stanford Graduate School of Education’s commencement on June 12 marked an educational milestone for its students and celebrated the lifetime of joy and meaning that lies ahead with a career in education.

“You get to witness the marvels of human learning and development, and you get to witness this every day, reminding yourself of the genius of humanity,” Kenji Hakuta, professor emeritus of education, said in his commencement address, honoring the recipients of 227 Stanford graduate degrees in education. (Watch the video.)

A psycholinguist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on dual language learning, Hakuta spoke of the wonders of infants learning to talk and about the achievements of the students whose families speak a language other than English at home — more 2 million of these children enrolled in public K12 schools in California alone.

“They learn their second language — English — primarily through education,” he said. “It’s an amazing production if you pause to think about it — an awesome unfolding of the marvelous human capacity for language.”

Being part of such miracles was the first of five reasons that Hakuta offered on “why education is such a great way to spend your life.” 

While Hakuta spoke of where the graduates would be going, Dean Daniel Schwartz described the journey they had traveled. In his first commencement since becoming dean in July 2015, Schwartz told the crowd that graduate school is like a backpacking trip.

“There are great moments of beauty, discovery and shared experiences, and there are interminably long and grueling hikes,” Schwartz said, adding that the last leg — the completion of graduate studies — is especially exhausting.  He compared the day’s ceremony to having just returned to the car after finishing the trek:

“You are sitting in its soft seats, the weight is off your back, your boots are off, and all you have to do is press the gas.  This is that moment – right now.  You’re done.  It is over.  You made it. Soon you will take the metaphorical shower, the cuts and blisters will heal, and you will be left with great memories of beauty, discovery, and shared experiences… and just how tough you can be. ”

But the full weight of what students achieved, Schwartz added, would not become apparent for years. “It is an amazing thing how hard it is for people to tell how much they have learned,” he said. “It won’t be until you go forth and leave the hothouse of Stanford that you will begin to experience the tremendous amounts of wisdom and skill you have acquired.  What seems obvious to you now, will be a bolt of genius to others.” (Watch the video.)

Schwartz began his remarks with a request for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the violence earlier in the day in Orlando, Fla.,  in the worst shooting in U.S. history, and he said it was a responsibility for educators to heal these and other slashes and tears to the world’s social fabric.

He lauded the graduates for choosing to work “in the single most significant, yet hardest arena of all – ensuring that all people have the chance to experience the personal and societal benefits of being educated well.”

The graduates are pursuing careers as policy makers, teachers, school administrators, entrepreneurs, professors, nonprofit leaders and for-profit executives. Some will be taking charge of charter school classrooms in the Bay Area, many will be working with children overseas. One is going to the White House as a policy fellow.  Others will be joining ed-tech initiatives in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The education degrees for 2016 consist of 30 PhDs and 197 MAs, including 92 to those who completed the 12-month-long Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP).

The GSE also held its sixth annual ceremony on June 10 for the 16 undergraduates who were being awarded minors in education and for 14 undergrads who had produced honors theses in education.

In his commencement remarks, Hakuta explained why students would be drawn to this field. “You get to enjoy the beauty of human community,” he said, recalling his visits to an elementary school in the Central Valley. On one occasion, the Irish-American principal spoke Spanish to visiting farmworker-parents, who had come to see their children get certificates honoring their progress learning a second language. It was this same school that gathered teachers, students and their families — mostly Latino and Hmong — to put in place a memorial to a graduate from decades earlier: a Japanese-American peach farmer who had been interned during World War II and whose family still tended the orchards and supported the school.

“That’s another reason why education is a great way to spend your life,” he said. “You get to witness and celebrate the value of true diversity in our society, not build walls around it.” That remark prompted loud applause from the crowd of more than 500, comprised of students and their family, friends and professors, all gathered in the shade in the West Oval Grove.

Hakuta ended his speech with one final answer to the question of why spend a life in education. “You experience firsthand the kindness of people,” he said. It can be seen in teachers reveling in the successes of their students. It is evident, he added, in how the graduates had helped each other through their time at Stanford.

“Education does not attract many jerks,” he said. “People are kind.”

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