“School On The Hill” is a photographic essay about Xavier High School, a Jesuit boarding school in Chuuk, Federated States of Micronesia. Xavier High School is a small school (175 students in grades 9-12) on a small island (Weno) in a large ocean. But the impact of this school, which has welcomed Micronesian students since 1952, is disproportionate to its size. It is not an exaggeration to say that Xavier High School has impacted more lives and nations than any other secondary school in the Western Pacific.
Xavier High School has produced four presidents of two Pacific nations, ambassadors and senators, physicians and teachers, community leaders, and influential business executives. And it has done this with limited financial resources, mostly volunteer teachers who are recent college graduates, and while dealing with frequent power outages and occasional water restrictions during dry spells.
In an age when most education in the Pacific is in crisis, when financial resources are limited, how has Xavier managed to thrive when most other educational institutions have failed? That is what took me to Chuuk in 2010, and led to “School On The Hill.” I wanted to see how Xavier managed, and indeed, excelled. I wanted to capture the human story of adversity and success, of challenges met, and of the power of discipline and faith in an era of diminished expectations.
What I found was this: success at Xavier High School, with its students from an area as large as the continental United States speaking more than nine different languages, is based on high expectations of student behavior and performance; rigorous academics; a culture based on discipline; and the value of living in a faith-based community.
For Hawaii residents, there’s another lesson from “School On The Hill.” It is seeing Micronesians at their best, not as marginalized immigrants but as leaders with a rich cultural heritage; and, as members of a vibrant, creative community based on excellence and success.