Senior appellate attorney Paula R. Bruner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Office of General Counsel advises young members of the community to commit to getting an education, saying that it is the “gateway to every opportunity in life.”
At the same time, Bruner urged the CNMI's youth not to let any setback and disappointment get in the way in pursuit of their educational goals and dreams.
The visiting lawyer served as the keynote speaker during Monday's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the American Memorial Park Visitors Center.
Organized by the African-American Cultural Preservation Committee, Inc., this year's event has the theme “I Have A Dream: Education is Key.”
In her remarks, Bruner cited as an example her own experience in obtaining her collegiate and law school education, which proved King's teachings that no person can rein in your dreams.
Growing up as the younger child of two educators, Bruner said it was expected of her to attend college. At an early age, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer to fight for those who are vulnerable and disenfranchised.
Bruner envisioned receiving her law degree from Howard University, where famous personalities and public figures have studied, thinking this would be the key to her success.
But financial difficulties as well as negative remarks and opinions threatened to get in Bruner's way of achieving her dream. In spite of the odds, the young New Jersey native persevered and subsequently received a full academic scholarship from her dream school.
“Life has taught me that most setbacks are setups for comebacks,” she said.
Bruner noted that U.S. President Barack Obama's pursuit of higher education was vital to his aspiration for the White House. She said one's personal determination, familial and community support, as well as great and committed teachers are instrumental in realizing educational goals.
Additionally, Bruner said she received “informal” education through social interactions and upon entering the workforce where she learned about character, trust, discernment and determination, office politics, and social climbing.
“In this informal classroom I learned that it is essential to protect your dreams and your reputation and to affirm your professional relationships. Most importantly, I learned to do what is right even when it is not necessarily popular,” she said.
While she emphasized the importance of education-whether formal or informal, collegiate or vocational, public or private-Bruner pointed out that anyone can still be great even if the person is not inspired by educational attainment.
“As Dr. King said, everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. When you serve, you will find that therein lies a valuable education in itself because helping others actually help you,” said Bruner.
Her inspirational speech culminated with her and friend Erica White-Dunston, former EEOC colleague who now works for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, singing the Happy Birthday song composed by Stevie Wonder for the prominent civil rights leader.
Bruner received a plaque of appreciation from AACPC president Joe Hill and secretary Ellen Delos Santos.
Viola Alepuyo of the CNMI Attorney General's Office, who introduced Monday's keynote speaker, said the public can help the youth in the Commonwealth through hard work and commitment to the young learners' education.
Monday's event also announced the winners of the MLK student poster and banner contests. Elementary winners were sixth grader Mike Angela Charfauros of Tanapag Elementary School, who bagged second place and won $20 and a certificate. First place winners were also from Tanapag Elementary School: Alvonny Cepeda, Chase Norita, and Grant Indengi, who each won $30 and a certificate.
For the high school category, winning first place were MCS 10th graders Andrea Lazaro and Konie Romolor, who each won $50 and a certificate. Second place went to Mount Carmel School tenth graders Peter Babauta and Sung Jung Hung, who each won $35 and a certificate.
Certificates were also handed out to organizers and event sponsors: American Memorial Park, NMI Humanities Council, Hyatt Regency Saipan, Pacific Islands Club, Saipan Ocean View Hotel, Mariana Resort & Spa, CNMI Bar Association, and Aqua Resort Club.