The following is the speech given by Wheelock College President David Chard at the Wheelock College-Singapore commencement in June 2017. For more photos from graduation, go to http://singapore.wheelock.edu/photos/
Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Prof Tan and the Singapore Institute of Technology for being Wheelock College’s generous host over the past many years and being such an avid supporter of our work.
Of course, I also want to thank Beth Fredericks and her team for their hospitality and support and for the Wheelock faculty who are the backbone of our programs here in Singapore.
President David Chard at Wheelock College-Singapore graduation 2017
Greetings from our Boston campus. We celebrated Commencement there last month with the same excitement you all feel today. It has been a tremendous year for us as a college. I am thrilled to announce that in July, Wheelock College will be welcoming a new Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Mary Churchill. Mary will oversee all academic programming including our Singapore programs. I look forward to introducing her to Wheelock in Singapore sometime very soon.
Wheelock students, you are the lifeblood of our college. We have been particularly proud of our students this year, as so many of them have had amazing accomplishments.
Two particular highlights are that we had our first Fulbright Scholar, Meilin Chong, Class of 2017, who will be spending 10 months in Ecuador teaching English to university students and conducting research into international differences in bilingual education. And, very importantly, two teams here in Singapore were awarded our Student Research Day awards judged by our faculty and our Academic Resources Staff. It is important to all of us that our Singapore students and our US students see themselves as one student body!
Welcome to parents, families, alumni and friends here in Singapore! Class of 2017, join me in thanking your family and friends for their support of your studies.
I’ve been President of Wheelock College for less than a year, and this is already my second trip to Singapore. We can’t stay away! Of course, the relationship between Wheelock and Singapore dates back nearly 30 years when Wheelock Professor Joan Bergstrom began working with colleagues here and our partnership began to take shape leading to the degree programs and training initiatives that have been so meaningful to both our campus in Boston as well as to our alumni and current students here in Singapore.
And, I’d like to think that it has been particularly important to the children and families of Singapore that have enjoyed the support and care of our teachers/alumni. Our work with Singapore educators is one of the strongest global efforts in early childhood and care in the world and, together, we have created a legacy in early childhood development that is a model for southeast Asia and beyond. We continue to work to create a vision for Wheelock-Singapore into the future.
Class of 2017, today is your day! Congratulations! Today is about you and your accomplishments. Whether you have set out to become an early childhood educator, you see yourself as an educational entrepreneur or you have returned to Wheelock to pursue your graduate degree in an effort to deepen your skills and knowledge, you have all committed yourself to improving the lives of children and their families.
You may know that this is the season of superheroes. Michael and I recently saw the new Wonder Woman movie. I want to tell you about the superhero who founded Wheelock College in 1888: At the age of only 31, Lucy Wheelock found her cause, the welfare of Boston’s poor, immigrant families, particularly their children who, at that time, were not benefitting from the industrial age. In fact, much like today, income disparity was growing and poverty was a pernicious challenge for families living in Boston as well as across the US. Lucy Wheelock saw in her position of privilege a responsibility to act.
In many ways, Lucy Wheelock was a revolutionary, a pioneer, a radical, some called her a heretic. I think she was a superhero. Her radical tool to reform education in the United States was kindergarten. More precisely, she wanted to prepare early childhood educators to serve children with a better kindergarten, a kindergarten that gave children freedom to play, to learn from their environment, to shape their values, and improve their lives. Her interest in service shaped the mission of Wheelock College for over 129 years, and counting.
I thought about the actions of early childhood educators, and how everyday they commit themselves to the development of young people. And, for sure, when done well, being a teacher is an heroic act.
But, I think the class of 2017, as early childhood educators, you are more than heroic. This made me think about another type of motion picture hero, the Transformers! The latest installment of the “Transformers” series will open in theatres. You might know of the transformer animated cartoons and toys that change from automobiles or animals to robots. Do you remember their jingle: “Transformers: More than meets the eye!!”
I believe that you, Wheelock graduates, are transformers for early childhood education. On the surface, you seem like kind, generous, and knowledgeable early childhood development experts, but underneath the surface, I know you are superheroes who transform lives. Let me tell you how I know this.
What exactly about Early Childhood Education and Care, particularly like that promoted in an education at Wheelock College has prepared you to take on the superhero role and to have a transformative impact on children’s lives?
The research used to build Wheelock programs suggests that effective early childhood education and care includes:
— Adult-child interactions that are responsive, affectionate and readily available (helping children build their brain architecture; 700 neural connections per second when appropriately engaged)
— Selecting and preparing teachers who are committed to their work
— Facilities that are safe, healthy, and accessible to parents
— Ongoing professional development that ensures continuity, stability and improving quality
— Perhaps most important, a developmentally appropriate, play-based curriculum that allows children to continue to be children.
When these features, certainly features promoted in your education at Wheelock, are present, the impact can be transformative:
— Accelerating cognitive and language development o Mitigating the risk of toxic stress due to poverty o Improving social and emotional wellness including lower levels of aggressive behavior
— Enhancing the precursors to early academic development
— Improving early childhood health, including better immunization records and less hospitalization
— Strengthening engagement and relationships with parents (decreasing negative interactions)
— Reducing the risk of developing special education needs.
Beyond what the research tells us about the importance of early childhood education, it is also important to invoke the intangibles that you brought to your Wheelock education. I witnessed these yesterday when I learned about your service learning projects. These are the values that attracted you to become teachers: commitment, love of children, your sense of responsibility, and your interest in transforming lives. Understand that this is not a career choice without challenges. As you grow in your career, take care of yourself and be available and supportive for one another.
Wheelock is looking to you graduates, as you become alumni, to help us remain strong and connected here in Singapore. Your ongoing commitment to Wheelock through your professional work and your financial gifts, make our programs accessible to those who decide to serve as transformers after you.
The good news is that Wheelock has a very strong and attractive mission, but we must make it our mission to spread the word about Wheelock to students who would be a good fit here in Singapore and other parts of the region and the world. Michael and I are honored to be here with you today.
Congratulations, transformers of the Wheelock class of 2017!