The following is the text of a speech delivered during NMC’s graduation ceremony on May 19, 2023 at the MHS gym.
WHY is graduation important? I ask that because concerns about affordability, student loans, and work readiness have many questioning the value of a college degree. The pandemic exacerbated things as learning transitioned online, giving everyone more options. As a result, enrollment in colleges and universities across the nation has declined steadily in recent years.
But not here at NMC. Our enrollment continues to climb. Our graduation rates continue to improve. And our graduates continue to earn more than those without a college degree.
Sadly, despite this success, some still question the value of higher education. They question if it's worth investing in. They question the significance of what you, dear graduates, have accomplished.
Well, I’m here to tell you and everyone else that there’s nothing more valuable than an education. And in higher ed, we measure that value with what we call outcomes. So, what outcomes have we achieved at NMC?
One outcome is workforce development. Back in the 90s, when the Board of Education required all its teachers to be U.S. citizens, NMC created the School of Education, which filled our schools with some of the best teachers in the world. And when the Board required teachers to pass Praxis 1 and then Praxis 2, so did we.
And what about health and public safety? Our School of Nursing has provided our hospital and clinics with NCLEX-passing nurses and our Criminal Justice program has trained hundreds of law enforcement personnel with numerous academies, including a 3+1 bachelor's degree with UOG. These nurses and first responders serve bravely on the front lines to take care of us and to protect us.
And about the economy? When the CNMI’s labor and immigration system was federalized in 2008, NMC responded with a new bachelor's degree in business management. Moreover, with help from Congressman Kilili, NMC brought the Small Business Development Center back home where it belongs, which has worked with our Community Development Institute to provide training, support, and resources to revive our local economy. And to support all the construction projects anticipated over the next few years, today we graduate our first cohort of engineers that will help rebuild our community.
This is all just a small sample of what NMC has done to achieve the outcome of workforce development. But we’ve done more than that. We’ve also achieved the outcome of community development.
We’re not done improving our academic programs. Our School of Nursing is looking to expand into a 4-year nursing degree and offer a broader array of degrees in allied health. Our School of Business is pursuing program-level accreditation to ensure that our graduates meet industry standards. And, to address mental health needs highlighted by the pandemic, as well as the learning loss that occurred, the School of Education is exploring what will be our first-ever, local masters programs in mental health, special education, and teaching.
What about beyond our academic programs? With our community partners, we have secured funding for a comprehensive feasibility study to expand the aquaculture industry. CREES is also working hard on exciting new initiatives to improve food security. And, we have made great progress in pursuing Sea Grant status to empower us with the research tools we need to become better stewards of our marine resources.
What about economic development? The College has secured close to $100 million dollars in federal grants to build new facilities. Building these facilities will not only infuse much needed cash into our economy, but it will also yield a state-of-the-art campus that will be the pride and joy of the CNMI and will finally give our students a campus they deserve.
I admit, it’s been slow-going, but I am happy to announce that, just this week, with support from Governor Palacios, all relevant government agencies have approved the major siting permit for the campus at As Terlaje. This means that, as soon as FEMA gives us the green light, we can finally break ground on the first project, our flagship building, the student center.
All this, too, is but a small sample of what NMC has done to achieve the outcome of community development.
But, our most important outcome, more important than workforce development or community development, is student development. And there is no doubt in my mind that we have excelled in achieving this outcome. With over 300 degrees conferred today, thousands of graduates over the past 42 years, and countless lives changed, Northern Marianas College has established a rich legacy of helping our people live more prosperous, productive, and meaningful lives. And today, you graduates are living proof of that legacy. You are the ultimate outcome that proves the value of education.
But it’s not just about outcomes, because the value of education isn’t only determined by how much you get out of it. It’s also determined by how much you put into it. And, you have all put more into your education than anyone can imagine. Despite typhoons, a pandemic, and the real struggle of learning in pods or on Zoom, each and every one of you pushed through to earn your diploma today.
Take, for instance, Lesley Rapiz, one of our nursing graduates. As one of the most trusted maintenance employees at the College, she has arrived on campus every weekday at 5 a.m. to keep our campus clean and safe, all while taking classes and taking care of her two kids. Or, what about Tania David, another full-time working mother, who lost both her father and father in-law in the past year, but persisted in earning her business degree, all while serving as the Vice President of the Business Club and leading one of the region’s largest banks. And what about DeVonne Sablan from the School of Education, who chose to fulfill her practicum with the Child Protective Services at DYS, where she worked with society’s most vulnerable populations to help survivors of abuse and neglect recover, heal, and thrive.
These graduates and their stories are, yet again, just a small sample of the many stories that affirm the value of education. Yes, today, we celebrate the outcome that is their diplomas. But we also honor how much they have invested in those diplomas.
So, I appeal to all local and federal leaders, both here in this gym and those watching online: If you value education as much as these graduates value their education, you would invest as much as they have, if not more. Because they did not shortchange their education. Neither should you.
And, to you, our dear proas, it’s not enough to congratulate you. We must also thank you for inspiring us with all that you’ve overcome, all that you’ve accomplished, and all that you are. Because you remind us what today is all about. You remind us why a college degree is so important. You remind us that the value of education is, quite simply, priceless.
Dr. Galvin S. Deleon Guerrero is the president of Northern Marianas College.