President Underwood Remarks Fall 2014

DECEMBER 21, 2014
Distinguished guests, honorable members of the faculty and University
community, special guests here on the platform with me, including the Board of
Regents, academic leadership, Pavlina Fojtikova, our valedictorian, our
commencement speaker, distinguished educator and imaginer of the past, Dr. Larry
Cunningham. This is the season for both the celebration of completed educational
projects in the form of degrees awarded and the holiday season- Christmas for
most of us, but we must acknowledge that there are other holidays as well during
this time of the year.
We are in the middle of Hanukkah and the lighting of the menorah is supposed to
symbolize how one day of oil lasted for eight days … the kind of miracle
GovGuam expects us to do on a daily basis with the appropriation and allocations
we receive- make them last a lot longer than they can. It is the kind of miracle you
graduates and your families went through as you figured out how to get to your
degree and you are now here.
Most of us are more familiar nubenan ninos or Christmas trees or Belens, and in
today’s instant media world- we are blasted by information about Black Fridays,
Cyber Mondays, an endless run of Christmas sales trying to fool us into thinking
what we know to be false- that things are actually cheaper today than after
Christmas. The good news for you is that value of your UOG degree is high today
and will be even higher in the coming years.
World news is also reminding us about the tragic, trivial and sometimes even
important news. Hackers from a nation to the North on the Korean peninsula have
apparently intimidated SONY into cancelling a movie few of us heard of before,
but we are now eager to watch. And we are mad that we will not be able to see it
on Christmas Day. It is called the Interview. It isn’t about the interviews that the
graduates will be having in a few days or perhaps during the past few weeks. It is
about a farcical plot to kill Kim Jong Un. The interviews that the graduates will be
engaged in are real and, while they will not be happening on Christmas Day, they
will be filled with the nervousness, joy, aspiration and inspiration that this holiday
usually brings. And you will be ready because you are a graduate of the University
of Guam.
Researchers will likely be concluding that this month will be the warmest
December worldwide on record. Deniers will tell us that there may have been
warmer Decembers in the past but we just weren’t around to record it. But if you
are a University of Guam graduate, you advance your arguments and knowledge
on the basis of evidence not speculation. Leave the speculation to the pundits on
television and the politicians in Hagatna or Washington DC. Climate change is real
and it will affect our lives in very direct ways as we will deal with climate-refugees
from nearby islands and atolls or as the manahak come in on the wrong month or
perhaps never come in again. Climate change is not a matter of faith; it is a matter
of physics. It will be up to you graduates to make the changes. I can live in a world
without SONY movies about tyrannical dictators, but I cannot face a future without
manahak. I am counting on you graduates to save the manahak.
We are also concluding the latest worldwide scare- Ebola. When I first heard of it,
I thought I have been dealing with ibolabola all my life, especially when I was in
politics. But someone told me that this was a serious disease of the body and not
just the tongue. So again, UOG graduate, we are counting on you to deal with this
and other potential threats to our public health. It will be you as policy makers, as
public health workers, as nurses, as future physicians and perhaps even as
researchers in a future laboratory here on campus that will guide our island society
through this and other situations we must confront.
So whether it is meeting the threat of Ebola or the future of manahak or our cyber
future, I will sleep better tonight knowing that we have graduated another 237
talented, beautiful, intelligent, committed, prepared individuals armed with a UOG
diploma ready to take on the world not just for themselves, but for their island, for
their region and for all humanity.
Each and every participant in today’s commencement, indeed in every
commencement, should be thinking about what they are starting even as they are
thinking about celebrating what they have just finished. It is inherent in the
dialectic of human existence, the rhythm of our lives that we have to imagine a
process of change, renewal, rebuilding for all of us as a society and for each of us
as an individual.
There is no shortage of problems in the world, so there is a lot of work ahead of us
in rebuilding, in changing, in renewing, in starting new projects as we look forward
as we commence to engage the world.
While some of us in previous generations have brought us to the brink of the fiscal
cliff, we are counting on you to commence the climb up the financial mountain
through entrepreneurship and intelligent and ethical management of government
While some of us have failed to educate as many of our young people as we should
give the high rates of high school and college drop outs, we are counting on you to
commence the ascent to educational success for all of our young people
While some of us have failed to celebrate our island past and traditions except in
press releases and photo ops, we are counting on you to commence the hard work
of cultural preservation- learning what is worth keeping and then teaching what is
worth knowing
While those of us who are older chose canned fish over fresh fish, watched
television instead of exercising and we have the health problems and advanced
waistlines to prove it, we are counting on you to commence the path down the road
to healthy living and long prosperous lives.
While those of us who are older failed to have the imagination to see things beyond
our immediate world, we are counting on you to commence sparking the creative
vision in our arts, in our culture, in our media that we need to be enriched instead
of just being entertained.
We are graduating global citizens, we are graduating American citizens, and we
are graduating island citizens. This is an important consideration because we are
located in a specific place. Although we are not limited to this place, we are
grounded in this place.
We are in the UOG Calvo Field House for a reason. We are in Mangilao for a
greater reason. Mangilao comes from the root word ilao- to look with a purpose in
mind, mangilao is the place from which we can observe inviting all of us to
research and to learn. If I could still climb a coconut tree near the shore line, I
could look for manahak or e’e’. Mangi’ilao yu’ manahak. But alas the manahak is
now unpredictable, I have great difficulty climbing that tree and the rhino beetles
have beaten me there.
Locating this center of learning, this educational capital of Micronesia in Mangilao
is perhaps coincidental with its Chamorro meaning, but it is a delicious,
meaningful coincidence as are much of our lives.
And our lives are made meaningful by many things, and amongst them are place.
We belong here. We are committed to this place. When we go somewhere else, we
have to explain where we are from. If we have been here all of our lives, it is one
explanation. If we have been here for a few years, it may be different. If we have
been here ever since then it could be a different narrative.
But we must always connect to space and place. And this place, Guam, Mangilao
invites conversation about connections and observations. As Marcel Proust tells us,
“the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having
new eyes.”
Here in Mangilao, we have not only connected hundreds of islanders today to their
island, but in the spirit of the word Mangilao we have given them new eyes, new
tools to observe, different ways of apprehending the world and those around them.
So as you graduates contemplate your future, as your past in this institution, as you
think about your personal story, your parents, your grandparents, your boyfriend or
girlfriend or spouse or children or whomever you hold dear, remember this place.
Remember what Mangilao means as a word passed on for generations here in this
beautiful island and always keep UOG close to your heart and when required,
when the spirit moves you, when the energy is so overwhelming, we stand up, we
stand up and we stand up and say BIBA UOG; BIBA UOG BIBA UOG