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December 19, 2016 In Malawi Blog
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On December 8, 2016, the eleven Malawian graduate students of Cohort 2 gathered in Lilongwe at Ufulu Gardens, a convention center in the capital city to celebrate with family and friends their graduation from Lakeland University. While this day marks not only the end of their master’s degree program, but also the end of the formal association between Lakeland and the Government of Malawi, these graduates also have new work to begin. Soon, they will start to assist in the literacy development of their nation.  That is why a graduation ceremony is often called “Commencement,” the beginning.  The Lakeland graduates will now begin the rest of their professional journey.

cohort 2 graduation resizedL to R: Yowasi Nkhambala, Frank Mbwana, Marget Mandala, Edson Dzimwe, Mary Florence Mzama, 
Henderson Ngwira, Mavuto Chiwale, Mike Kumwamba, Aleme Chitanje, Elizer Kalilombe, Nancy Nyirenda

The graduation ceremony opened with the eleven students, in their graduation gowns and led by Professor Brian Frink, entering the auditorium to the inspiring sounds of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, a piece of music common to American graduations. A color guard completed the procession and placed the US and Malawian flags alongside the podium. It was a moment of gravity and uplift. An invocation was offered by the Reverend Michael Mkandawire to the 65 people in attendance to bless the proceedings.

Professor Jeff Elzinga began the program by speaking of the students’ 12 months of study at Lakeland University in Wisconsin, their four months of field research conducted in Malawi, and most recently, their thesis defense meetings. These defenses took place December 5-7 at the offices of USAID before a panel of faculty members, including their thesis advisor and friend, Professor Mehraban Khodavandi, who joined the discussions (in the middle of the night, Wisconsin time) via Skype technology from his office on campus. “The students all did well in their defenses,” commented Prof. Elzinga to the audience, “and we know the sky is the limit as to the good work they can perform in raising literacy levels in Malawi.”

Ms. Florence Sepula, Participant Training Specialist for USAID/Malawi, spoke next. She began her remarks with a quote from William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” At one point, a sudden downpour outside pounded so forcefully on the building’s metal roof that the noise threatened to drown out all competing sounds, but Ms. Sepula would not be deterred.  She noted that having been present for the thesis defenses, she is quite certain that this group already has what it takes to improve the quality of early grade reading instruction in Malawi. “These reading specialists could not have come to us at a better time,” she said.

The final speaker was Mr. Valentino Zimpita, Chief Education Officer for Higher Education at the Malawi Ministry of Science, Education, and Technology. Mr. Zimpita was clear that going forward all the graduates will be put to the best possible use so that primary school teachers—and ultimately learners—will benefit from their knowledge and skills. He gave profound thanks to both Lakeland University and USAID for initiating this program, and he ended with a quote by Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Then, Prof. Frink called the graduates forward to receive their diplomas, and the master’s degrees were officially conferred. 

Prof. Elzinga closed the program with these words, “Since 1999, Lakeland has graduated 75 students from Malawi. This has been a partnership of love, hard work, and the shared desire to imagine a world where every tomorrow will be brighter than any yesterday. Part of Lakeland’s mission has always been to ‘prepare men and women of diverse backgrounds to lead ethical, purposeful, and fulfilling lives.’ Lakeland University is proud to have fulfilled this part of its mission over the past 17 years through our Malawi Program and these 75 graduates.  Thank you, Malawi,” he concluded, “for giving us such fine individuals to work with.”

A buffet lunch followed the ceremony and under a newly sun-filled sky, family and friends took countless photos and celebrated the past achievements of these eleven graduates and also their work yet to come.  

This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland University. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland University and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

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