Nine months ago, 14 special educators – all from different countries – came to Perkins School for the Blind with a shared dream of making the world a better place for children who are blind or deafblind with multiple disabilities.
This week, they came one step closer to realizing that dream.
Inside a crowded Dwight Hall on Wednesday, 12 of them graduated from the organization’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP), a comprehensive and prestigious training course that equips its carefully selected participants with advanced, specialized teaching skills (two others completed the course, but were unable to attend the ceremony).
Now, with hard-earned degrees in hand, members of the ELP Class of 2018 are set to return to their respective countries to realize the next part of their shared dream – putting their skills to work both inside and outside the classroom.
“We need you to influence your organizations, your schools, your educational ministries and your governments,” said Mike Delaney, Executive Director of Perkins International, during the ceremony. “We know you can do this because you have already shined.”
During their stay at Perkins, ELP participants underwent rigorous and immersive training, working hands on in classrooms, across departments and in specialized areas unique to the individual’s home country’s demands. They even concluded their coursework learning how to develop and deliver pitches to attain funding for upstart programs – a skill that will complement their preexisting talents.
Participants also made tremendous sacrifices to come to Perkins, which were acknowledged during the ceremony.
“They have left their families and their friends and have missed many life passages,” said Marianne Riggio, ELP Director. “But every ELP [graduate] here has taken advantage of all of the opportunities they’ve had to learn… to forge ahead and blaze new trails as they move forward.”
Enock Ombok, a teacher of children who are deafblind in Kenya, was selected by his course mates to deliver the commencement speech. Amid jokes about overcoming cultural barriers, he emphasized how he and his fellow ELP graduates came together as strangers with a common goal.
“A journey of 1,000 miles starts with one step,” he said. “We are happy this morning to have arrived at this destination.”
In addition to Kenya, participants hailed from from Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Russia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malawi, Poland, Nigeria and Costa Rica. In graduating, they join a worldwide force of program alum now more than 300 strong.
Bidding their own farewell, the Perkins student chorus sang a song befitting the great distances from which the 14 ELP graduates came to participate in the program, wishing them home safely, “guided by harbor lights.”
Then it was time to graduate the participants. Riggio called Samir Ashmawy’s name first. Here from Egypt, he stood up, accepted his diploma, thanked the crowd in sign language and sat back down ready to walk the long road ahead.