SIT Graduate Institute marks 7th annual Washington, DC, degree ceremony

A student dressed up in for commencement, standing at a podium

August 11, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC – Seventeen students from 12 countries received their MA degrees on August 11 in an inspiring ceremony at the National Presbyterian Church that highlighted the importance of global inclusion and social justice. The graduates have all completed SIT’s program in Sustainable Development with a focus on international policy and management.

SIT President Sophia Howlett told the graduating students, “This is a special time for you. This is a special time outside these walls.” Taking the ideas of social justice to the wider world means moving beyond the “safe spaces” of the classroom to the “brave spaces” of individual communities.

To the sounds of an African drum played by soloist Roy Horton, Dr. Howlett led the procession of faculty and students into the spacious church while invited guests, some having traveled long distances, looked on. They were welcomed by Dr. Deborah Robinson, the Graduate Center’s academic director in Washington, DC, who praised the graduates as emerging leaders in global development.

Speaking on behalf of his fellow students, Anesu Dunbar Mazazi Masube took up the challenge. Calling the past 12 months – in which the students completed an intensive practicum – the “most intense one year any of us have had in our lives,” Masube, a native of Zimbabwe, pointed out that although they came from many different backgrounds, “what connected us is our desire to make the world a better place.”

In comments made after the ceremony, several graduates reflected the wide range of ways they plan to bring about that change. While Patricia Alejandra Varela said she hopes to become involved in global education with a focus on Latin America, Khalid Said M. Al Jumaia wants to work on agricultural development issues. Their colleague, Wubshet Demissie Loha, whose wife is also an SIT graduate, said he will focus on policy research, possibly at an institution like the World Bank.

The ceremony’s theme was set by keynote speaker Dr. Patricia T. Morris, managing director and principal consultant at Morris Consulting. Her advice to the graduates, she said, could be summed up in two words: “Be extraordinary.” She quickly added that this did not mean they should seek celebrity or wealth, the common standard for being called extraordinary today.

“Believe that people matter,” Morris advised, and act on that belief. International development work, she said, is about people, not about technology. Pointing to the Green Belt movement in which “collective power” has improved conditions in rural Kenya, Morris cited this and other examples to show how “small change engenders big change.”

She also warned the students against those who say their goals are too ambitious. “Goals are meant to be ambitious,” she reminded them, before returning to her main point: “Go forward — be extraordinary.”

As the students were called by name to receive their degrees, the church was filled with the sound of applause from the audience. Mary Kate Costello then received a plaque on behalf of the Hunger Project to recognize that organization’s role as an “Outstanding Practicum Partner.”

Robinson was also recognized for her distinguished work as SIT’s academic director.

Dean Kenneth Williams closed the ceremony with advice of his own for the graduating class. Returning to the “be extraordinary” theme of the keynote address, he advised the young men and women seated in front of him, “Do not be let charisma override character. Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity.”

In a rousing finale to the event, Williams left the newly minted SIT alumni with these words: “Carpe diem – seize the day!”

Posing for pictures with family and friends after the ceremony, Alexander Ryan Hessinger, a native of Ecuador, seemed ready to take on that challenge, as was Sara Janice Mowchan. At the same time, the graduates were taking a pragmatic look at what comes next. When asked about their immediate plans now that they had completed their studies, several responded with the same words: “Find a job.”

They are ready to seize the day.

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About the Author: Kate Casa