This was the message 23-year-old Jeong Hyun Kwon shared with colleagues, guests, and spectators during her inspirational remarks at the graduation ceremony of the Northern Marianas College on Saturday.
Originally from South Korea, Kwon spoke about the ordeals and sacrifices that shaped and gifted her with the wisdom and courage to realize that “education is more than academics,” that real teaching is a powerful tool that changes lives for society’s next generation.
“When I graduated from high school, I would not have imagined that I would be here standing at this podium right now. I am greatly honored to be here in front you delivering this speech as an academic excellence award recipient,” she told the crowd.
Born in South Korea in 1990, Kwon’s family moved to Saipan when she was in tenth grade. After high school, she attended courses at University of Illinois but had to return to Saipan because of financial difficulties.
“Moving back was a difficult thing for me. I felt like I had lost everything because I could not further my studies in the area I held most dear, mathematics,” she said.
In spring 2010, Kwon was persuaded by her parents to pursue a degree in education, concentrating in elementary education.
At first, she said, she felt little confidence in pursuing this degree, thinking her personality would not allow her to be a teacher, and she was concerned about the language barrier. With reservations, she applied with NMC and declared a major in education—a decision that became a turning point in her life.
“The School of Education drastically transformed me. Teachbacks throughout the program required me to practice speaking in front of others which allowed me to break through my shell and the linguistic barrier,” said Kwon.
Practicum courses allowed her to experience teaching in real classrooms with real students.
“In my capstone course, student teaching, when 26 pairs of shining eyes looked at me for guidance and growth, they captured my heart. These children, the CNMI children, taught me the true rewards in education and reminded me that I am not only a teacher but a learner as well,” she said.
She especially recognized her students at Oleai Elementary School for teaching her how to teach and how to love.
For her fellow graduates, Kwon said she is equally proud of each and everyone’s accomplishment and joined them in celebrating their years of challenges and success.
Kwon, who expressed her great gratitude to her family here and Korea, wrapped up her message with violin solo of Amazing Grace.
“I would like to play a song called Amazing Grace on a violin because it praises the grace that brought me here today,” she said.
As this year’s most outstanding graduate, Kwon topped this year’s batch of 180 graduates. She is the daughter of Young Jo Kwon and Yun Suk Kwon. She is a currently a support staff at Marianas Baptist Academy and is exploring a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in biblical studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Besides Kwon, four other students were named Academic Excellence Award recipients in the associate degree level: Anne Julia Padilla from business; Olivia Espeleta Leung from liberal arts; Hyo Jeong Kim from nursing; and Carina Suu Lan Train from the nursing program.
In their brief messages, each one challenged their colleagues to strive more for their life’s successes. Family members, mentors, friends, and supporters were also equally recognized and cited as great contributors to their achievement.
This year’s Student Leadership Awards were presented to Claire Dina Cabrera from the BS elementary education program and Carina Suu Lan Train from the nursing program.
Presenters of these awards included Gov. Eloy S. Inos, NMC president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D., and Board of Regents’ chair Juan Lizama.
Richard Vila Pizarro from the business administration program is this year’s Community Service Awardee. Pizarro was NMC’s Student of the Year awardee during the Charter Day celebration.
In her message, Hart said that there is no greater public treasure than a highly educated, creative and energized group of college graduates. The graduates, she said, are departing with competencies and skills in their chosen fields in order to make a difference for the islands.
As a Commonwealth, Hart said that everyone must embrace the fact that it is an educated workforce that transforms an economy. According to her, of the 30 fastest growing occupations today, two-thirds require postsecondary education. And, with the average earnings of colleges graduates at a level that is twice that of workers with only a high school diploma, a college education is clearly the path to an individuals—and a family’s—brighter future.
“We must strive as a Commonwealth to be that kind of place that focuses on a brighter future by ensuring access to higher educational opportunities for all students. Our doors must be opened even further so we can help more people here across our beautiful islands to succeed,” she said.
Hart challenged the new graduates to never stop learning and never stop giving back. “No matter the path you choose, I hope we here at NMC have given you that initial fire in your soul. Now go out, make a difference, and make us all proud!”