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Ofelia García Receives Honorary Doctorate Degree

Posted by Amy Kline on May 13, 2016

NoneOn May 12, 2016, the Graduate School recognized Ofelia García with an Honorary Doctorate degree as part of its annual Commencement ceremony at Riverside Church. Through the conferral of the Honorary Doctorate, Bank Street College seeks to recognize those individuals who have made an exemplary contribution to the field of education, and more broadly the lives of children and families. These accomplishments occur through a range of activities including, but not limited to:

  • Distinguished Research Scholar
  • Outstanding Practitioner
  • Outspoken Advocate
  • Influence on Public Policy and Opinion
  • Champion for Equity and Democracy
  • Special Impact on Children through the Arts and the Media

Below we are pleased to share with you a transcript of Dr. García's commencement remarks.

Madame Chair Yolanda Ferrell-Brown; President Shael Polakow-Suransky; Dean Cecelia Traugh, members of the Board of Trustees and Bank Street graduates, families and friends:

Felicidades to all of you! Y muchas gracias for bestowing this great honor on me which I don’t deserve, but which I humbly accept.

In my letter accepting this invitation, I accepted this honor for three reasons. First, it is particularly important for me that this honorary Doctorate is from Bank Street –– an institution I have always greatly admired because of its commitment to always place the children first, instead of blindly following established educational policies and practices. Second, it is particularly thrilling for me to be receiving this honorary Doctorate when two educators whom I really admire are at the helm of Bank Street: President Shael Polakow-Suransky and Dean Cecelia Traugh. Third, my work has always been in what are considered the fringes of the educational endeavor –– the education of language minoritized children. To be considered for an honorary doctorate means that these children are no longer in the margins but have been given their rightful place at the center, alongside everyone else. The word alongside…in the words of Dean Cecelia Traugh, “The intention of that word is to bring things together -- not in an either-or relationship or in a hierarchical relationship -- but instead in a relationship which is about seeing what might be possible, what might be generated, what kind of new and different space might be made.”

Receiving this alongside all of you is a great joy, and as you enter schools and classrooms I want to urge you, as alongside implies:

  • To see possibilities
  • To generate new ideas, understandings and actions
  • To build different spaces and spaces for differences and equality
  • To love what you do (added to what alongside meant for Cecelia)

So instead of being educators who are:

  • blinded by uniformities, standards, scripted curricula & standardized test scores
  • stilted in your potential to liberate children from poverty and social inequalities by being constrained by scores and ratings
  • complacent in the material conditions of schools and classrooms
  • fearful and passive 

I urge you to take on new roles. Reimagine yourselves, as the word alongside demands, in four roles:

  1. Awakener/Visionary
  2. Gardener
  3. Architect
  4. Lover

What does being an awakener in schools today mean?

It means seeing possibilities in all and awakening those possibilities in the children you teach.

  • “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Robert Frost
  • Remaining “wide awake” as Maxine Greene taught us, in order to advance social justice.
  • Observing deeply, each individual. Long-looking and slow descriptions(Pat Carini & C. Traugh)
  • To describe teaches me that the subject of my attention always exceeds what I can see.  I learn from describing a painting or a rock or a child or a river that the world is always larger than my conceptualization of it. To describe is to value.
  • Seeing the potential of all
  • Pat Carini, “Human capacity widely distributed”

What does being a gardener in schools today mean?

  • Growing children who are curious and have new possibilities, beyond just meeting standards
  • José Martí, Cuban poet and national hero: “La educación es como un árbol: se siembra una semilla y se abre en muchas ramas. Hombres recogerá quien siembre escuelas.”
  • Education is like a tree: You plant a seed and many branches grow. Those who plant schools, will have men and women as crops.
  • Growing children free of prejudice, racism, linguicism. Charles Bronte, Jane Eyre: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.
  • Paying attention to the conditions of the soil. It cannot be the same everywhere.

What does being an architect in schools today mean?

  • Building a space of possibility, a more just society, change in the world, more equality
  • Lillian Weber, finding the “cracks in the system” & the creative manipulation of policies and practices by releasing the power of imagination
  • “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

What does being a lover in schools today mean?

  • Besides exerting your awakeness & vision, your struggles and toil as gardeners and your creative building, you exert your capacity to love deeply.
  • José Martí “La enseñanza es ante todo una obra de infinito Amor.” Teaching is above all work of infinite Love.

You are leaders of education, of schools and classrooms –awakeners, gardeners, architects, and lovers.

I urge you to enter classrooms and schools not with fear and trepidation,

  • but as awakeners and visionaries, with excitement and courage to observe deeply and to be wide awake to possibilities;
  • as gardeners to nurture children and communities, to make their branches sprout and expand and their flowers display their colors and curiosity, their sense of wonder;
  • as architects to break through walls that divide, to change lives, to do what’s right, to build a more socially just society;
  • as lovers to show your expansive love for the children and the communities you’re alongside with….

Gracias y felicidades!

-Ofelia García, May 12, 2016, Bank Street Graduate School of Education Commencement

tagged: commencement, graduate school, honorary doctorate