by Perfecto Caparas
INDIANAPOLIS – Showcasing their resilience and undying hope despite the covid-19 pandemic and military junta’s atrocities, 25 students graduated recently from the National University of the Union of Myanmar (NUUM).
During their commencement ceremonies on August 27, 2022, the student commencement speaker addressed fellow graduates from the 2021-22 cohort saying:
“We all worked hard to get to this day and our work did not go to waste. It is one of the major milestones of our lives.” (Pressenza is withholding the commencement speaker’s name for security reasons.)
The backdrop of those words shows just how “hard” and rewarding their studies truly were.
- At least 709 houses and buildings have been sealed off by the Junta between February 2021 and July 2022.
- Since the February 1, 2021 military coup and the emergence of the Spring Revolution, a total of 2,259 people, pro-democracy activists and other civilians have been killed through military crackdown following pro-democracy movements.
- Since the coup, a total of 12,193 people are currently under detention and 1,427 are serving sentences. There are a total of 83 post-coup death row prisoners as of August 31, 2022.
- On the morning of August 30, two locals from Than Seik Village: a man over 60 years in age and a woman over 50 years in age, died due to the junta forces firing with heavy weaponry in Shwegyin Township, Bago Region. Another 3 people, including 2 children, were injured.
AAPP is a human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma.
The student speaker said that all of them 25 graduates earned their certificate by sheer force of “our persistent effort and constancy although we had to struggle constantly with political strife, security concerns, and internet access challenges.”
“As all you know, life is a journey and all accomplishments we achieve during the course should be taken as starting points for further achievements.
“There will be obstacles and missed exits, potholes and roadblocks in our lives.
“We can also experience the moments that make us feel like we cannot possibly go on, especially under the political crisis. But we are not alone. We all are on this journey together. Making the most out of our futures is not easy. But it doesn’t mean we give up on ourselves. We will keep pushing because we know we can achieve our dreams, our rights because we deserve it.”
The student speaker continued:
“We all know Nelson Mandela. He said Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“We need to come up to a consensus with our knowledge and skill to change our country and to change our world.”
The student speaker said that NUUM, “our university will produce more skillful and talented students who want to take their own accountabilities for their lives.”
“I attest that the courses you have taken reflect the standards of top academic institutions in the United States,” Dr. Bruce David Ray, Ph.D., said in his certificate conferral speech during the ceremonies. Dr. Ray serves as a member of NUUM’s academic standards committee. He also works as a member of the Burmese American Community Institute (BACI) board of directors which, in turn, serves as NUUM’s interim board of trustees.
NUUM’s students graduated from these certificate programs:
- Data Analytics and Project Management
- Education, Human Rights and International Development
- Inclusive Education Leadership
- Public Policy and Leadership
- Social Science
A US-based NGO, BACI created NUUM as an online global campus in response to the covid-19 pandemic made worse by the military junta’s February 1, 2021 coup. BACI conceived NUUM “after a careful and inclusive consultation and deliberation with stakeholders” narrated Elaisa Vahnie, BACI executive director, during the event. NUUM, he explained, aims to provide “continuing learning opportunities for Myanmar students whose education had been disrupted by delivering high quality, equitable, and accessible academic programs and educational services.”
Agents of change
Vahnie lauded the graduates for overcoming their “challenges with determination and firmly standing on the principles of unity, diversity, truth, respect and dignity even in this revolutionary time.”
“And… you are already leading us all to a better place as an agent of change, consistently and fully recognizing those challenges but standing with facts and truths.”
“You, as a leader, understand the issues we are facing not only locally but also globally… consistently with a clear vision you have for yourself, for your community, your country and for the world.”
Vahnie stressed NUUM’s vision for a unified Burma, telling graduates:
“You have brought and you will continue to bring diverse groups of people together regardless of your ethnicities, nationalities or religious beliefs—whether you belong to Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Rakhiane or Bamar, or any other groups, or whether you are big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor— treating everyone the same and equal with recognition, appreciation and respect.”
Disclosure: Perfecto Caparas teaches at the National University of the Union of Myanmar beginning in Spring 2022. He currently serves as founding director of the Center for Holistic International Human Rights Law Praxis of NUUM-Burmese American Community Institute (BACI).