Patricia A. Wand asked one thing of the Antioch University New England graduates who filled Keene Middle School’s auditorium Saturday: To meditate on the meaning of service.
She also wanted them to expand their definition of the word.
“Volunteer service means we extend ourselves without financial compensation to improve the lives of others,” said Wand, an Antioch alumna who served in the Peace Corps in Colombia. “I invite you to join me in thinking about this definition of service in a little different way. Let’s extend this concept of service to include anything we do to improve the lives of others.”
About 130 graduates and soon-to-be graduates — those who have just a few more degree requirements to complete — listened to Wand’s words. The class of 2019 is much larger, however, at 240 graduates, who each earned their master’s or doctoral degrees in disciplines including psychology, education and environmental studies. Some of them, like Wand, served in the Peace Corps. The university offers financial assistance to volunteers in the U.S. government-run program. And those who serve can earn their degree in environmental studies during their tenure in the corps.
Wand graduated in 1967 with a master of arts in teaching from the university’s predecessor, Antioch-Putney in Vermont. She dedicated her five-decade career to all kinds of service, from teaching social studies to middle schoolers in Washington, D.C., to serving as dean of library and learning resources at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates.
Reflecting on her time in the Peace Corps, Wand said she came to understand her contribution to the Colombian village she served in long after her post ended. She returned to the tiny village with her son, Kirk, to find friends she had not seen in decades. One of them, Olga, invited Wand and the then-9-year-old boy for a meal. When Olga served them fruit juice alongside the meal of fried plantains, a little rice and cooked vegetables, Wand paused for a moment.
“He and I, as many of you know, had a strict rule: Do not eat anything raw that you have not washed, boiled water and prepared yourself,” she told the graduates and their loved ones.
Wand said she asked Olga about the juice.
“(Olga) said, ‘Well, first we peel the fruit, and then we put it in a blender ... and we add boiled water,” Wand said. “And she looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, ‘Senora Patricia, you are the one who taught us to boil the water.’ ”
The exchange showed Wand the impact she had made all those years ago.
“I had returned to that village for strictly selfish reasons. I wanted to see my friends and I wanted to see my mountains,” she said. “ ... But I had never imagined that I would also find a legacy of lessons learned and lives enriched by our presence and service as Peace Corps volunteers.”
Saturday’s ceremony also highlighted another kind of service — that of professors to their students. Two faculty members, both of whom spent 30 years at Antioch, will retire in the coming months. Susan Hawes, professor of clinical psychology, and Joy Ackerman, a core faculty member in the environmental studies department, were both honored by their colleagues for their years of work at the Keene university.
Service was also a theme in the stories of graduates. Among them was Francis Xavier Tuokuu. The 34-year-old hails from the West African country of Ghana, and completed his Ph.D. in environmental studies in just three and a half years. To finish his degree six months ahead of schedule, Tuokuu attended school without taking any vacations, he said.
“I want to change the world,” he said. “I cannot change the world within a day, but in my own little way, I’ll be able to make changes and have an impact globally.”
He is passionate about improving life in his native country. Ghana, he said, has gold mines, but its residents have not benefited from these riches.
“You go to mining communities, and you’d be appalled by the level of degradation and underdevelopment,” he said. “And the environment is being destroyed, on top of that.”
Companies, including American businesses, are mining the gold and paying the government a fee, he said, but in the process, they pollute the land, air and water. Tuokuu wants to change that, either by going back to Ghana to work or by finding a post in the United States that will allow him to make a difference.
Another graduate, Jayoti Soor, also wants to change the world, albeit through therapy and dance. Soor, 34, is from northeastern India and has a newly minted master’s degree in movement therapy and counseling. She hopes to work on her Ph.D. next.
In the meantime, Soor said, she wants to bring dance and movement to people’s lives.
“I want to go back and serve my country,” she said. “... I think body and mind is so interconnected, and we continuously forget that. But you cannot just be in a healthy body without being in a healthy mind. Our body stores memories, our body stores trauma, so I think in (the) health field it’s so important to integrate both.”
She has a simple motto.
“When in doubt, dance the doubt.”