It Takes An Island To Raise An Island: Oceania On the Rise

For our parents, our younger siblings, our grandparents …

Last Friday I attended the College of San Mateo’s (CSM) Polynesian Club Graduation & Student Recognition Ceremony, a prelude to the school wide graduation ceremony held afterwards. The beautiful commemoration opened with  traditional Tongan songs sung admirably by underclassmen PI students, marking the beginning of the program.

And then it happened …

In one accord,  fifteen Pacific Islander scholars filed into the small room each dressed in a cap and gown and flower leis hanging from their necks. How beautiful to see a moniker of our culture worn by the masses appear so traditional on the bodies of my brothers and sisters! Each graduate wore their cultural garments so uniquely – so proudly, and for the first time I could feel the rawness of Oceanian legacy harmonize as one melody.

This moment of realization followed by a ceremonial prayer of peace and gratitude created a shift in the room – a shift of spirit. From the CSM faculty and staff to the keynote speaker, Ursala-Ann Siataga, it was obvious that the success celebrated on Friday was strongly bonded to the successes that came prior to this graduating class.

Miss Siataga shared her experience and offered a dose of wisdom to not only the graduating class, but to the elders and community members as well; for ‘it takes an island to raise an island’. She addressed the fear of leaving home for the first time to pursue her studies at UCLA and the innumerable life lessons thrown her way. Essentially, these lessons developed into a platform to create change within herself, her family and community. Her words of courage, cultural preservation and the duties we carry to our family, our community and ourselves left a strong echo in the room. An echo that will forever carry into my conscience as a stroke of reality that our people — my people — are brilliant, our youth are ambitious, and it is only ourselves that create limits. To see fifteen Pacific Islanders excel in academia with a desire to achieve more was a declaration of power over this generation of Pacific Islanders- the doers, the dreamers, the ambitious ones.

So to all that graduated this season, do not settle after this one. You’ve survived the most brutal years of undergrad, and it’s now time to elevate. Your time has come – OUR time has come. Our mentors placed the tools in our hands, our professors the academic knowledge and our ancestors the cultural pride – to soar passed the statistics and negativity stacked against us as the ‘minority of the minority’. There is so much in the world for us to succeed in and a journey awaiting our footsteps to wander. God bless  xx

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