Downtown Tauranga shoppers paused to cheer a procession of 115 Bethlehem Tertiary Institute (BTI) graduates decked out in blue and gold on Saturday. The graduates had achieved degrees and diplomas from BTI's teaching and counselling programmes. The celebratory procession commenced from Red Square at 1.30pm and proceeded up Devonport Road to Holy Trinity Anglican Church where the ceremony took place.
Mayor Stuart Crosby, Hon Tony Ryall, Cr Larry Baldock and other local dignitaries joined with families of the graduates to form a crowd of around 700 people. There was a supportive atmosphere and strong sense of community spirit evident, with a number of graduates being publicly honoured with tributes from whanau and local hapu.
This year's graduation ceremony held special significance as 2013 marks BTI's 20th anniversary as a tertiary provider. During his graduation address, BTI Dean, Dr. Andrew Smith reflected on the last 20 years saying, "I believe we can stand tall as we look at the calibre of our graduates, as we consider the proportion of graduates who get jobs in their chosen field, especially in times of economic challenge, and as we reflect on the quality and influence of research that comes from the institute."
During the ceremony, special attention was given to BTI's involvement with a group of student teachers who live in refugee camps on the Thailand/Burmese border. "Given the political changes currently happening in Burma it is an exciting time to be involved in the support of an ethnic group seeking to re-establish its educational system," said Dr. Smith.
BTI alumnus, Graham Cook, who is living and teaching in the refugee camps with his wife Kendal, returned to Tauranga to give the Graduate Address. During his presentation, he shared a moving slide show of images of the refugee student teachers holding up pieces of cardboard on which were written statements of hope and resilience.
Dr. Lynton Baird, who holds the honour of being the first person with a PhD to graduate from BTI's Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) programme, said he enjoyed celebrating with his lecturers and fellow graduates on Saturday. Dr. Baird, who holds a PhD in Organic Chemistry, is now teaching chemistry and science at Wairarapa College in Masterton. "I love it and find it much more rewarding than research," he said. "Learning science will open many doors for my students in the future, even if they can't see that now. I want to help shape students that are empathetic, peacemakers, and care for their neighbours and the creation."
Dr. Baird and many of his secondary teaching cohort at BTI were offered teaching jobs before they had even completed their training. "We are thrilled to see our secondary teaching students in such demand," said Dr. Smith. "Their strong performance in practicum placements is clearly opening doors for them."
BTI began as Bethlehem Teachers College in 1993 with 1 full time lecturer and 15 students. In 2013, BTI has 450 students throughout New Zealand, and also in Australia, Tonga and Thailand, 40 permanent staff and more than a dozen programmes across counselling, social work and all spheres of teacher education.