Ed.D. graduate draws from mother's internment camp experience for inspiration
Commencement season is taking place during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Honoring both celebrations, the student speaker for the 2019 Brandman Hooding ceremony for the School of Education drew from her personal experiences that inspired her to become a public educator. Almost 75 years since her mother was released from the Amache Internment Camp for Japanese American citizens, Diann Kitamura, Ed.D. addressed her fellow Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership graduates at their hooding ceremony. Her mother’s perseverance despite prejudice, abuse and isolation upon re-entering public school has fueled Kitamura’s career in public education, spanning more than three decades. She now spearheads change as superintendent of the Santa Rosa City Schools district.
Here are Kitamura’s remarks:
Good afternoon, I am honored to represent my 70 colleagues as we participate in today’s hooding ceremony. We represent more than ten different public and private sectors. From K-12 education, of which I am a part, to community college, university, technical school, public agencies such as the policy police and military, nonprofit, for-profit and clergy.
We each brought a unique perspective the Brandman doctoral program and we each leave with a doctoral degree that means something uniquely different to each of us.
For me, this degree is about both redemption and validation.
My grandfather was an undocumented immigrant who came to this country to pursue the American Dream. Working as a farm laborer for many years he finally earned enough money to marry my grandmother who was a “picture bride” and start farming a small plot of land.
My mom was born in 1932 and at the age of 10 she and her 4 siblings were plucked from their home and transported to the Amache Japanese Internment camp in 1942. When they returned home, they were subject to extreme prejudice and racism.
The stories from my mom about what happened to her in public school by the adults ignited a goal for me to be a public educator, from teacher to Superintendent, to ensure equality, equity, empathy, and social justice is the lens through which we treat all children in school.
On Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 9:43 p.m., the Tubbs fire ignited near Calistoga and my life changed forever. The smoke in the air was thick and heavy, and the Tubbs fire continued uncontrolled. I was now a superintendent leading and managing a crisis. We closed school for three weeks, 800 of our students lost their homes along with 80 if our staff. We lost one school and our school farm. To re-open our 24 schools we had to professionally clean 2 million square feet of classroom space, change 3,000 air filters, and HEPA vacuum turf track and fields.
This wildfire crisis proved to be the most challenging of my 36 years in public education and a test of my personal and professional strength and fortitude. Fortunately, I was in the Brandman doctoral program when the Tubbs fire took place and the programs emphasis in organizational development and transformational change was a huge support during this time.
The impact of the wildfire in conjunction with earning my doctorate was so significant that I changed my dissertation topic to study crisis leadership and management of superintendents during a wildfire.
This dissertation process provided me the freedom to explore how my leadership style could be effective during a crisis, which is notable since this is a heuristic study and my experiences were a part of the data collected.
Dr. (Keith) Larick assisted me in finding a framework that brought both research and validity to a crisis leadership and management that was beyond just tactics and operations.
The framework created the space for crisis leadership to consider the humanity of a crisis and identify the social-political factors that impede or propel decisions and the coordination of those decisions across jurisdictions.
My life has changed forever because the Tubbs fire not only burned a path through Santa Rosa, but it also ignited a path for me toward a new future. From a professional standpoint, my experience in the doctoral program prepared me to lead during any type of crisis and drives me to be a better leader and human being each day.
Like my colleagues here today I am different as a result of the doctoral experience and the opportunity to grow as a leader. Our experience has truly been life changing.
I have discovered my strength is boundless and my love for my students, families, and staff is unconditional. I may have had an inkling of this before the wildfires, but it was solidified as a result of the leadership challenges faced during the wildfire crisis.
As I reflect about my doctoral experience and growth as a leader, I realize that it strengthens my core values and commitment to make a difference. I will continue to be guided by love, courage, integrity, authenticity and freedom. (the same values I identified at the start of the doctoral program)
On behalf of all the graduates here I want to thank all of the faculty for their dedication, guidance, for their extraordinary experience and making it possible for us to be transformational leaders in all that we do. Congratulations Graduates!
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