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Speech

Remarks at Ground Breaking Ceremony of the Yap High School Buildings

Peter A. Prahar — Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America

December 15, 2011 — Colonia, Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia

The Honorable Traditional Leaders of Yap State; Governor of the State of Yap The Honorable Sabastian Anefal; Lieutenant Governor of the State of Yap The Honorable Anthony Tareg; Director of the Yap State Department of Education The Honorable Vincent Parren; Principal of Yap High School Mr. Domingo Techur; staff of the Yap High School Hospital; students; ladies and gentlemen.

Let me also acknowledge and congratulate the contractor, GPPC, Incorporated, and Mr. Robert Westerfield, representing the Project Management Unit of the FSM National Government, for their work on this project.

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We are gathered here this afternoon for the Ground-Breaking Ceremony for the new buildings for Yap High School.

There was a similar ground-breaking ceremony for the new Tomilang Elementary School yesterday afternoon. As you know, construction of an Early Childhood Learning Center and two new buildings on the Yap Campus of the College of Micronesia is well underway. I look forward to participating in their ribbon-cutting ceremonies sometime next year.

These buildings are being built with funding provided under the Amended Compact of Free Association between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia. I am very proud to be able to say that they are solid evidence of the commitment of the people of the United States to making real improvements in the lives of the people of the FSM, who are our partners and our friends in this region of the world and globally.

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All of us have very high hopes for this school, its students, and its graduates.

We hope that this school will represent the value that your community places on education.

We hope you will care of these buildings. Let’s make sure that they are place we can be proud of every day – trash and graffiti free. Use the buildings to send the message that education is important to you and that it is valued.

We hope that this school will continue to serve as an anchor of your community – one that cements the bonds among members of your community, including those who come from various backgrounds and those who go on to unique futures.

We hope that the graduates of this school will make a positive mark wherever they continue their education, whether it be in the FSM or elsewhere.

We hope that the graduates of this school return from time to time to see their old classrooms, to visit their old teachers, and to see the old gymnasium and fields where they once played sports.

We hope that that the graduates of this school serve as positive role models for currently enrolled students, and that the way in which they live their lives inspires those around them to be better people.

We hope that the graduates of this school continue to draw on its traditions and history and that they find those memories a source of strength as they go about their lives in the hectic world of the 21st century.

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Let me say something, too, about the new vocational training facility.

I get the distinct impression that vocational education has not been a top priority in the education departments of the four states, including Yap. I would certainly hope that this situation will change and change quickly. Perhaps the new vocational education building that will be built here will send a message to everyone that vocational education is critically important to the future of your young people and the future of your state.

It is a fact that most of the jobs – and certainly most of the well-paying jobs – in this region of the world being created by the huge U.S. investment in Guam will be in technical fields. Over $1 billon in construction work is already underway, including the new Naval Hospital and Pacific Air Force Training Center. The Guam military build-up will continue to create training and employment opportunities for several decades.

Let me stress that these jobs are open to women. This is critically important to understand as we discuss economic development. Study after study has demonstrated that economic empowerment of women is essential to achieving economic growth and in improving the education and health of families and communities. Do not leave them out of your vocational training plans and programs.

Let’s be honest. Many of the young men and women who find work in Guam may not return to the FSM. But they can become permanent good-will ambassadors of the FSM as they hold down well-paying, responsible positions in their communities. This is of critical importance in overcoming the rising tide of criticism of Micronesian migrants to the U.S.

However, it is important to note that many of those who do find work in Guam do eventually return to the FSM. When they do, they bring skills, experience, and confidence to the FSM workforce, both as employees and as employers. And they all send home much needed cash – cash that will be used to buy goods and services in the FSM.

Let’s prioritize vocational education and support the young men and women who choose to pursue this option.

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But as important as a good quality school building is to education, it alone cannot assure that the students in it receive a good education. New textbooks, new furniture, or even teachers with college degrees and accreditation certificates cannot ensure a good education.

A good education requires a strong, coherent curriculum, dedicated and professional teachers and principals, students motivated to learn, adequate resources and facilities, and parents and communities that support and value education.

A good education is rooted in the classroom, the home, the community, and the culture. A good education requires enormous effort by teachers, students, parents, and communities working together under the leadership of a strong principal.

So let me take advantage of this opportunity today to address the teachers, the Principal, and, finally, the students.

First, to the teachers:

Renew your commitment today to your careers and to the children placed in your care.

Teaching well is a tough job and, frankly, one that often does not get the rewards and recognition it deserves. But just showing up for work or even completing your degree and accreditation requirements is not enough. We must never confuse accreditation with dedication. And dedication is what you need to bring to the classroom every day for every class.

It is your responsibility – and it is a huge one – to deliver well-structured, sequential programs in well-managed classes day in and day out for a minimum of 180 full days of academic instruction per grade so your students learn the material and to maintain learning momentum.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your students master the material they need to learn into order to lead lives of economic opportunity and choice and to become leaders in their families, leaders in their communities, and leaders in their nation in the 21st century.

Now, a word to the Principal and Vice Principal:

Experience has demonstrated again and again that you and the leadership you provide are the keys to success in education.

Your performance makes the difference between a school that fails its students and one that enriches its students.

You have the responsibility for making sure that the teachers are delivering well-structured, sequential programs in well-managed classes, day in and day out. You have the responsibility for recognizing and rewarding outstanding teachers and for dealing appropriately with those that cannot or will not meet our expectations of excellence. You have the responsibility for making sure that the students and teachers are working in a sanitary, well-maintained facility that supports learning and demonstrates the value this community places on education. You have the responsibility for making sure that parents are meaningfully involved in their children’s learning. You have the responsibility of making sure that the whole community is involved in supporting the school, its staff, and its students.

In short, you are responsible for ensuring that this school fulfills the trust placed in it by the community and the students entrusted to its care.

Finally, a word to the students:

While I directed my first comments to the adults and reminded them of their significant responsibilities for your education, let me also remind you that you will be the one who gains or loses from what you learn or do not learn in this school.

It is your future at stake. If you fail to learn, it is you who will suffer the consequences, not your teachers, parents, or the Principal.

I have never met an adult who complained that he studied too hard in school.

That tells me two things.

First, as adults we realize how important education is to our lives. It is key to a life of economic opportunity and choice. It is key to ensuring the well-being of our families and communities. It is key to our self-respect and the earning the respect of others.

Second, as adults we come to realize that we were given an incredible opportunity as children to learn and grow intellectually. Sadly, for some of us, it means realizing the choice we made not to take advantage of this opportunity when young closed off options for us in later life.

It is very hard as an adult to get a second chance. So I say to you today: study, study, study. Encourage your friends and brothers and sisters to study, study, study. Take away as much as possible from this school. You won’t regret it.

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All of you here today – community members, parents, educators, students –will reap the benefits from a quality education in this school. It is you who will either succeed or fail in the effort to prepare for the highly competitive environment of the 21st century.

For the educators here today, thanks to all of you for the work you do day in and day out. As I noted earlier, teaching well is a tough job and one that often does not get the rewards and recognition it deserves. But I assure you that, in the United States, you have a partner prepared to assist you in establishing an effective public education system – one we can and will all be proud of.

On behalf of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President of the United States Barack Obama, and the American people, I wish you all the best in meeting the challenge of educating your children for the 21st century.

Again, thank you for inviting me to this ceremony and allowing me to participate in this historic day for the State of Yap.