Baccalaureate Reflections of Remembrance and Gratitude

Moala Penitani ' 09

May 24, 2009


Good morning everyone. Thank you for attending the 2009 Baccalaureate ceremony. It is an honor to be one of the speakers from my graduating class. Today’s theme is “Remembrance and Gratitude.” As I was contemplating the meaning of these words, I, of course, used my favorite search engine, to define these important terms. A few of these definitions include: a retained mental impression; the state of being remembered; commemoration; and a gift as a token of love of friendship. Gratitude is the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful; appreciation; warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor; kindness awakened by a favor received. All of these definitions exemplify my experience here at Manchester College.

Everyone has their own stories and their own understanding of college. Let me start off by saying that I was quite nervous about  preparing for this day and my employer, Thelma Rohrer, told me to speak from my heart and share my story, so I will leave the embarrassing parts out and let you into my college experience.

College is continuous learning. I am not restricting this to academics, but to learning about oneself, how to socialize with people who are different from you, what to do and not to do in North Manchester, how to pick yourself up when everything fails, mending your broken hearts, tolerating people who are not in agreement with you, determining what is right or wrong when given a situation, and making personal decisions regarding your life. All of us have chosen to attend Manchester College and survived the four, five, or six years to obtain a degree in our fields and what we choose to do with those diplomas will determine the path our lives will lead.

College is also about first times, as well. I will always remember my first time on the Manchester College campus. Leslie from Admissions was my tour guide and we had walked across the campus on a gloomy and humid day. The campus was empty and the first faces that I saw were the staff members. One particular person I remember is Carl. He worked for maintenance and was mowing the grass on the Mall. He waved and smiled at me and my parents and I felt at home. He wasn’t the only person who had greeted me with a friendly smile and gesture; the staff and faculty members made me feel comfortable with choosing Manchester College to be my next home.

My second year of college was a life-changing experience. I decided to study abroad. On the spur of the moment, I needed a change and I needed to find myself without any influence of friends or family. I applied to Mexico and was accepted. I spoke to my parents about studying abroad and they dismissed the idea as a joke. After I called my mother to get her credit card number to purchase my plane ticket, she became frantic that her baby girl was going to a foreign country that was hours away from her protection. It took awhile for my parents to adjust to the idea of my independence and the idea that it was time to leave the cuckoo’s nest and begin my own.


To sum it all up, I had many awakening experiences that are difficult to put into context.  Although I am a strong independent woman in the United States, it is difficult to be one in a different country where there is a huge dividing line between the two genders and where women are constantly reminded of their roles. The different gestures and meaning of words often conflicted with one or more feelings, resulting in misinterpretation. I experienced the meaning of poverty and found out that children work all hours of the night to make a living. I worked with an organization, La Casa de Matraca that helps to get young girls off the streets and provide a house, food, and education for a better life. Every week, a few of us would visit the house to spend time with the girls and practice the little Spanish we knew.

They assumed that we came from rich families and that we didn’t understand their situation. Personally, I was upset and tried explaining to the girls that I did not come from such a background and related that both of my parents had migrated to the States with no education and have devoted themselves mentally and physically to putting food on the table. As a child, I only owned two pairs of clothing, which were interchanged daily and I lived on boiled chicken. When both of my parents started working, at the age of 8 I was taking care of my two younger sisters because we couldn’t afford a babysitter. When I was 14 years old, I started working and have never stopped. I have an understanding of poverty and know what it means to work hard. It is because of these of events that I am able to overcome these obstacles.

These obstacles that I am speaking of are typical situations. I am one of the few from my family to graduate, and proud to say, the first to graduate from the United States from Manchester College. I did encounter a few problems during my stay here at Manchester College. I experienced my first heartbreak. I struggled in writing papers for Professor Ogden, who expected nothing less. I was struggling to find faith and understand my place in the Catholic Church. I battle to work three jobs in one year while maintaining my leadership roles in organizations.


But most of all, I had many struggles with my family. I have a very close relationship with my family, and whatever pain they endure, I feel it, too. In my fourth year of college, toward the end of the year, a severe family problem occurred. It was terrible enough that I was beginning to lose focus of my goal and I was about to drop the semester to go home and support my family. I was lucky enough to have people that care about me give me the help that I needed. I spoke with my employer, the counselor, my professors and friends. All of them came to my rescue and kept urging me to finish the semester and the professors were kind enough to give me support and time off from my classes. I finished out the semester and spent the summer at home with my family to help ease the pain and stress of what we were going through. This event was a turning point in my life that made me realize that at even at my worst, I can get through it.

I would like to think that God was also a large integral as well. During my rough times, I always say this quote: “God would not give me anything that I cannot handle.” I have prayed for mental strength and believe that the rough times are challenges from God. Everything always appears to be treacherous at the moment, but afterward it doesn’t seem too bad. Hopefully, we will look at those terrible moments as a climb toward our goal.

Gratitude comes in many forms. It doesn’t always have to be in a positive light, but you can also be thankful for the challenges and all of the terrible things that you have been through. For me, gratitude goes hand in hand with remembrance. Whatever we remember from our past, we should feel gratified that those memories have shaped us into the people that we are today.