Twelve graduates of Perkins' Educational Leadership Program received their diplomas in late May at an emotional ceremony that marked the end of what one participant described as nine months of "adventure, learning, loving and empowerment."
The graduates, who are teachers of the visually impaired or related professionals, came from 11 countries to Perkins' Watertown, Mass., campus to receive advanced training in the education of children who are blind and have additional disabilities. A 13th participant, Sihua Ju from China, participated in a shorter version of the program and graduated in February.
After the ceremony, the educators returned to their home countries, taking with them a wealth of new teaching strategies and practical experience, and inspired by the advice of keynote speaker Dr. Penny Hartin, CEO of World Blind Union.
"The people who make a difference in your lives are not those make the most money or win the most awards, but they're the people who care the most," she said. "What I would wish for you is for you to aspire to be one of those teachers who is remembered as having aided the journey through school for your students."
Class speaker Mable Namata Joviter of Uganda said Perkins had been a "home away from home" for the ELP participants.
"(The experience) has been a point of adventure, learning, loving and empowerment," she said. "We have been empowered in all aspects of life. We don't know how best to give back to the Perkins family which has given so much to us, but what we can do is give all that we have learned to the rest of the world."
Using a metaphor that drew laughter from the crowd, Joviter said that, like all newborns, the graduates would require ongoing support from their new "family."
"Perkins, you have been pregnant for nine months," she said. "Today, you have a newborn and that is us. And just like a newborn, we are still fragile and need support. We must continue to learn from you. The journey is just beginning."
Marianne Riggio, coordinator of the ELP, thanked the graduates for the enthusiasm and insights they brought to Perkins.
"I have learned and been inspired by you every single day," she said. "I know that we learned from our ELPs as much as they have learned from us."
Since 1989, more than 210 educators from 70 countries have completed the ELP and returned to their native countries to serve in schools, universities and nonprofits as recognized experts in the education of children who are blind with additional disabilities.