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"Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary": At TC’s third master’s ceremony, a call to action by Kris D. Gutiérrez

2016 Convocation Masters III
Kris D. Gutiérrez (center), Professor of Language, Literacy & Culture, University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, received TC's Medal for Distinguished Service. She is pictured here with TC Provost and Dean Tom James and Lalitha Vasudevan, Associate Professor of Technology & Education.

“All of you will have a hand in changing the trajectories of the lives you touch for the better – and they will change you,” TC President Susan Fuhrman told graduates at TC’s third master’s degree ceremony, held on Tuesday afternoon. “Why? Because your quest for social justice is more than a resolve to confront what is wrong in our society, and make it right. It is also a summons for you to continue to deepen your knowledge and understanding of all the lives you touch -- their cultures, their experiences, their painful realities – so you can work with them to achieve brighter futures.”

Fuhrman addressed students from four of TC’s academic departments – Human Development; International & Transcultural Studies; Mathematics, Science & Technology; and Organization & Leadership. She cited the work of two – James Nadeau (Higher & Postsecondary Education) and Ilya Lyashevsky (Cognitive Studies) – as evidence that the graduates were already embarked on the path she was describing.

Nadeau has spent his time at TC developing a greater understanding of ways to provide access to higher education to students from under-represented groups. After graduation, he will become Program Director for a new collaboration between the Posse Foundation and Dartmouth, Vassar College and Wesleyan to help military veterans transition from the battlefield to the college classroom. Fuhrman said of Nadeau, “it is inspiring to see you applying your TC experience to serve those who have served our country the most.”

Lyashevsky, who is staying on at TC for doctoral studies, combined his technical skills with his appreciation of the importance of social/emotional learning to develop a smart phone app designed to help the homeless. When users tap on the app, called WeShelter, they unlock a small donation to service organizations that offer housing to homeless people and help them rebuild their lives, and can connect with New York City’s 311 call center, which can dispatch assistance to a person on the street.


In her address to the graduates, Kris D. Gutiérrez, Professor of Language, Literacy & Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, echoed the sentiment that the world is full of possibilities for those willing to develop “a new social imagination.” Gutiérrez, who was receiving TC’s Medal for Distinguished Service, told the story of being driven to the New Orleans airport after the annual conference of the American Education Research Association (AERA), of which she was president at the time. Although most of the world saw the driver, Keith Plessy, merely as the bellman of the New Orleans Marriott, Gutiérrez learned on the drive that he was actually a descendant of Homer Plessy, the New Orleans man who had been at the center of the 1896 Supreme Court ruling making “separate but equal” the law of the land (until it was overturned by the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954). Keith Plessy not only knew a great deal about his family history, but had teamed up with the great-great-granddaughter of the judge who had upheld the ruling to found a new civil rights organization called the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, which teaches about the Plessy decision and its continuing relevance in American life. 

"Find your three star fix, set your course, and remember the African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together."
—David Taliaferro

Gutiérrez cited Keith Plessy as a role model for the “so-called everyday man” who seeks to become a “historical actor” who can change the world.

“You have the opportunity to do something ordinary in your work, and to turn that into something extraordinary,” she told the graduates. “The question is: What kind of historical actors do you want to become?”

Student speaker David Tialaferro also spoke of seeing new possibilities in life. Tialaferro, a tactical officer from the US Merchant Marine Academy and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is earning a master’s degree from TC’s Executive Change Leadership program, known as XMA. Tialaferro drew on his knowledge of navigation to encourage his fellow graduates to chart their own new and different paths in the future.

“Prior to my time at TC – as a leader, I struggled as a community navigator,” he said. “I tended to look at the stars I’d been familiar with all my life. Though I had seen millions of other stars, I stuck to looking for the ones I was most comfortable referencing. At TC, I learned not only to navigate towards a more accurate position but learned the excitement of seeking out new stars as I worked to become a more effective leader and change-agent.”

Taliaferro concluded by urging his classmates to "Find your three star fix, set your course, and remember the African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together."

Before receiving their degrees, students at the ceremony heard a musical interlude from a vocal ensemble performing “How Can I Keep from Singing,” conducted by Ed.D. candidate in Music and Music Education Shulamit Hoffman, and accompanied on piano by Markus Ling, Ed.M. candidate in Music and Music Education.

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Related Links:

"Go for Broke" in Healing Hearts and Minds: At TC’s first master’s ceremony, Sandra Jackson-Dumont echoes a famous charge to educators

"Take Advantage of Opportunity": At TCs second master’s ceremony, Thomas Frieden cites the need for luck, readiness and hard work in making a better world

"Metabolize Failure": Susan T. Fiske encourages TC’s doctoral graduates to embrace life’s obstacles

Graduate Gallery 2016

TC 2016 Convocation to Honor Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Thomas Frieden, Kris D. Gutiérrez and Susan Fiske


Published Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kris D. Gutierrez
In her address, Guitérrez asked graduates, "What kind of historical actors do you want to become?"
David Taliaferro