Pondering Change at the Xavier Graduation

Below are just a few thoughts prompted by the Xavier graduation on May 31. I jumped at the chance to attend because it was a homecoming for me. My introduction to Micronesia was through the prism of this high school in 1963, fifty years ago, when I began a three-year teaching stint at Xavier.

It was a warm homecoming for sure, but home had certainly changed. Even aside from the uniforms that were in vogue (all the juniors and their faculty moderators were dressed in yellow as they set up the court for graduation) and the presence of Sapukians everywhere, there were strong signs of culture change.

The salutatorian and valedictorian, both young men, spoke from notes in an off-the-cuff fashion–something that itself was a departure from past practice. But what surprised me most was that both of the speakers concluded their speeches with a personal aside to their mother and father telling them how much they loved them. What?? I had just finished telling someone in a private conversation that islanders don’t directly express such strong family sentiments. “I love you” might be whispered into the ear of a girlfriend, but not spoken over a mike to a graduation ceremony audience. But that was then, and this is now.

At the end of the ceremony, the graduates processed off the stage and down the aisle–this time not to the stately music we’re used to hearing, but to hiphop sounds that the class had chosen as the recessional. Some of the students, as they exited two by two, bowed to their classmates and danced off the stage. One graduate picked up the girl he was partnered with and carried her down the aisle bobbing and weaving. A boy picks up a girl? Not in 1963 when I made my first entrance on the scene. Not even in the 1980s after I had left the school for good. Whatever happened to the discretion, extreme by western standards, between the sexes?  No one was offended, of course, but it just shows how much times have changed.

One young lady who should have been on the stage was suddenly taken sick just the day before the graduation. Her older brother, who planned to attend the ceremony, absented himself so that he could take care of her in the hospital instead. Fair enough. I would have done the same myself, I like to think. But I’m not an islander. Somewhere along the line the old avoidance between brothers and sisters has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Nothing wrong with any of this, to be sure. It just illustrates for me the impact of recent cultural change on life in the islands.  Culture change is not a textbook term. It’s real.

The graduation came off fine. My own small part in it was to share with everyone some of the not-so-glorious moments in Xavier’s past, if only to show that the school survived some tough times in the past and will undoubtedly do so in the future.

One other feature worth mentioning: There were at least three graduates that represented the third generation of Xavier alumni: James Myazoe, Theresa Aten and Ferleen Mallarme.  May there be many more.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.

Copyright © 2015, WHERESFRAN.ORG, Francis X. Hezel, SJ.