Since I finished my research project and report writing, I took a week to go to American Samoa; where many of the families at my school come from. As it turns out, it was not so easy to get to American Samoa from New Zealand. I had to overnight on each end in Apia, Samoa before flying over on a small plane, a 20 minute flight.
There is definitely a different way of being here. The streets have no names, and I confused small village roads with driveways frequently. The speed limit is 25, so everything moves slowly - it is hot and humid all year. Asking for directions was enlightening - it seems that all the senses are used in the understanding of place. See the map above - after driving it several times I think each curve is an accurate portrayal of the coastline and road. At one point I was told to roll down my windows, when I could smell fumes it meant I was at the right spot.
I met with Justin at the Feleti Barstwo Library (https://www.americansamoa.gov/feleti-barstow-public-library) and we talked about very important things, like how the Pacific is really the center of the world (Earth). We do not need more maps that always cut the Pacific in half, lets just cut Europe and Asia down the middle instead. He shared information about his strong summer reading program, the community after school activities, the Pacific Island collection, and the remarkable photograph archiving project, which by the pictures below you can tell is a large endeavor. Photos from estates are being given to the library to the extent that the processing and digitizing has taken over the conference room. I shared the results of my research project in New Zealand. I hope that we will be able to work together and connect students from our two libraries in the future.
I also met with Bessie at the Department of Education Library Services office. They were just finishing up processing a large book order. And - they had a line of old Mac desktops waiting to be surplussed, just like at home.
On the main road through Tafuna there is a large storefront with the sign The Shoe Tree in large letters. Every time I passed it for the first few days I wondered why? The only people I saw wearing shoes were the Starkist Tuna Processing Plant workers I passed while they were on a break. Everyone else wore flip flops, simple sandals, or nothing. Then, on my last day I figured it out. It was for graduation! I was sitting on the side of the hall with the young men, and under those green gowns they were almost all sporting, what looked like, new or hardly worn sports shoes. Apparently, flip flops are discouraged as graduation attire. Under the gowns they all wore matching white faitagas and green shirts.
I happen to be there during graduation week. This is a big deal. There are six high schools on the island, so they spread out the ceremonies all week. There are signs everywhere, balloons, truck beds full of happy students, and traffic jams.
While in Zealand I have been reflecting on what it means to live in a culture with a communal frame. I have mostly been thinking about how to bring communal ways of learning and processing information into the library, but also more generally.
I can think of heritage stories based on communal practices, but trying to see what it means in a contemporary setting is harder. When I attended this graduation ceremony in American Samoa there were many things going on, implicitly, that either support communal practices or are evidence of them.
There was no “superstar” graduate speaking as the valedictorian: all the speakers were adults. Instead, the graduating class sang together, all 140 of them. Not just once, but four times - plus a short body percussion piece. There was one solo, but she did not even stand on the stage. A student did stand up and lead the class as they sang.
When it was time for the students to go up individually and get their diplomas, another group of students came forward and surrounded them. The national honor society students, all dressed in blue uniforms created a circle around the graduates while sitting on the ground. I know that sitting below an elder is a way of honoring him/her. Perhaps this is what they were doing.
Even as the students had their individual names called, they did not stop for an individual moment on stage. The students sat with the boys on one side and the girls on the other side. One boy was called then a girl was called, so entered the stage from opposite sides. After they each got their diploma and shook hands with officials they joined on the stage and left together - side-by-side. The two clearly had an opportunity to individualize this stage greeting. Some just gave a fist bump before leaving the stage while others did a brief, clearly rehearsed, gesture. The last five or so boys had no girls left to greet. They all waited on stage for the last one, did a cheer together, and left the stage together.
The write up in the program about the valedictorian started with orienting herself in the context of the community supporting her.
Born on (date), (name) is the daughter of (mother) of (village), American Samoa, and (father) of (village), Samoa. She is the middle child of three, with an older sister and younger brother, both of whom are also devoted to education, a testament to the values instilled in them by their parents. (Name) is a devout member of the (church) in (village), under the spiritual guidance of (pastor’s name). In the early years of her educational quest, she attended (preschool) and completed her elementary education at (school).
Only after this introduction, did the write up include information about her accomplishments in high school that earned her the title.
The ceremony ended with the graduates saying a prayer of gratitude to their parents, families, and teachers who helped them along the way.
All of this does not mean that individual acknowledgments were not given, because they were. Those with college plans, military enlistments, and scholarships were all listed out loud. In the program it even listed those with SAT scores over 1000, ACT scores over 19, and the student with the highest ASVAB score.
The principals printed words in the program stated: ". . . we are inordinately proud of you all! We trust you are ready, willing, and more than able to grasp the torch that we bestow upon you . . "
The principals last words were something about the students’ achievements reflecting on their families. The last graduation I went to at home, had many more message about being yourself, doing great things, and following your dreams. These are all very individualistic messages. The message here was one of confidence and honor - that you are ready to go out in the world because you remain part of a whole. Your value is in that role, not any single amazing thing you might achieve.
For me the message to not let your family down and that everything you do reflects on them sounds like a lot pressure. But, I know one of my sons would say that the constant message to be passionate, find a dream, and find your own way is a lot of pressure.
Perhaps I am reading into all way too much, but it was an interesting comparison.
Next week I go into my final presentations in New Zealand. I will post about how they went and copies of written work.