Santus Bugomal and Richard Pekalur hold their diplomas as they are joined by Yap officials and UOG representatives for a group photo after the graduation ceremony at Yap High School on Aug. 5. Photo by Joyce McClure
Colonia, Yap — “Perseverance” was the word of the day at the graduation of two students in Yap that was held at Yap High School on Aug. 5. Santus Bugomal and Richard Pekalur had begun working toward their bachelor’s degrees in 1992 and 1993 respectively and were at long last attired in academic gowns and tasseled mortarboards to be honored by family and friends, Gov. Henry Falan, Lt Gov. Jesse Salalu and leaders from the Yap State Legislature, the University of Guam, College of Micronesia FSM and the Yap State Department of Education.
It was the first baccalaureate graduation ever held on the island for the YDOE and UOG Partnership BA Program. “It’s been a long process and history in the making to today,” Falan noted in his opening remarks.
Despite beginning their studies nearly three decades ago, life had intervened, and the men, now well past the time of life when most students graduate from college, hadn’t been able to complete their coursework toward the Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education.
Nonetheless, with associate degrees in hand and some coursework for the BA completed, they became well-respected elementary and high schoolteachers in Yap’s outer islands in the ensuing years. Then they enrolled in the University of Guam’s School of Education's regional Partnership BA Program in Elementary Education and the Individualized Degree Plan that provides the coursework for associate degree holders and practicing teachers required to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education.
Began in 2007 and 1980 respectively, these programs “fulfill UOG's mission to provide access to degree courses to students in the region,” notes the UOG website. Every summer, up to four professors from UOG’s School of Education travel to Yap for three weeks to teach two courses and “assist enrollees in their studies.”
Courses vary every summer and include teaching methodology for math, science, fine arts, physical education and health, technology and practicum courses.
In 1998, UOG established a branch campus at the College of Micronesia FSM’s national campus in Pohnpei to provide fourth-year courses in elementary education to enable students to earn their bachelor’s degree from UOG.
“This agreement was followed by a collaborative arrangement between COM-FSM and UOG to offer the fourth-year elementary education program,” states the COM-FSM website.
Pamela Legdesog, director of the Yap State Department of Education, explained in her remarks to the assembled that the students “can only take annual leave during the summer so all of our teachers who have been attending the courses and training have been making the choice to forego vacation and instead choose to work on improving their knowledge and skills to be able to improve their teaching.”
Some of the students travel many hours by boat from the remote islands throughout the state to attend the summer session.
Richard Pekalur is one of the two students who graduated from YDOE-UOG Partnership BA program. Photo by Joyce McClure
According to Dr. Robert A. Underwood, former president of UOG who gave the keynote address, “UOG is the only university in the world that gives the people of Micronesia resident tuition and it doesn’t collect any taxes from Micronesia. The University of Guam gives the same tuition to the people of FSM as it does to Guam residents. This was a commitment that the people of Guam made very early on back to the time of the Territory when they opened their arms. We try to say in Guam that we do not just serve islanders, we are an island institution. We are family.”
Dr. Lawrence Camacho, UOG’s dean of Enrollment Management and Student Success, said the two men being honored “exemplify what a lifelong learner should be. They are the epitome of what lifelong learners are.”
Speaking on behalf of himself and his fellow graduate, Santus Bugomal noted that this was the “first ever commencement of the UOG and Yap State DOE.” He said it was an “extraordinary honor to stand here today as part of that history. On behalf of my fellow graduate and myself, I want to thank the Yap State government and traditional leaders for their kind support... We are very grateful to bring us to the point where we are today.” He also thanked their teachers “for traveling the stormy seas every summer” to come to Yap. “I never imagined that things would happen the way they have.”
DOE's Legdesog expressed the admiration of everyone in attendance when she said, “You serve as a testament to your fellow Yap State teachers that it is possible. Better prepared teachers lead to improved teacher performance which is the focus of our goal of improved student learning outcomes.”
Next year, 10 Yapese students are expected to graduate with BA degrees from the UOG-COM FSM partnership program and the year after that the goal is to hand out many more diplomas.