Spring 2023
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Return Engagement

Nearly 50 years ago, Jose Manduley missed his Pitt graduation. This spring, Pitt’s School of Education helped give him a do-over.
Photography by
John Altdorfer and courtesy of Jose Manduley

Jose Carlos Manduley smiles as he takes his place in line. He’s resplendent in his dark robe and mortar board. His blue and gold PhD hood is draped across his left arm. At the University of Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Field House, he marches proudly among the hundreds of other School of Education graduates. They are ready to walk across the stage, accept their degrees and enjoy the final moments of their academic journey with Pitt.            

Commencement is special for all graduates, of course. It’s a public celebration of the hard work it takes to earn a degree. For Manduley, however, this moment heralds an extra layer of significance because it has been more than 48 years in the making. 

It’s an exceptional moment in a life that has never been exactly conventional.  

Manduley was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1944 and grew up the eldest child of a respected pharmacist in a vibrant, middle-class neighborhood. But, in 1960, a year after the Cuban Revolution ended and Fidel Castro was appointed prime minister, everything changed. Manduley’s parents feared for their children’s safety under the new regime, so they arranged for them to be quietly relocated to the United States. Manduley and his middle sister, Maria Elena, would become two of more than 14,000 Cuban children sent abroad between 1960-62 in a clandestine exodus called Operation Peter Pan.

He was about 16 when he arrived in Florida to live with relatives. It was a difficult and lonely transition. “I lost my youth,” he says, recalling the nine years he lived without his parents. Despite the hardships, he still managed to finish high school on time.

Those challenging early years fostered in him a commitment to perseverance and a dedication to hard work — two things that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

“When opportunity presented itself,” he says, “I took advantage of it. I roll with the punches.”

After high school graduation, he rolled to Bloomfield College in New Jersey (which is today part of Montclair State University), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations. He next landed a position in Washington, D.C., with the Education Department of the World Bank.

While there, Manduley was profoundly inspired by his coworkers’ passions and the World Bank’s commitment to development and anti-poverty. He was especially fascinated by how the organization used television, radio and other media as tools to educate rural and remote populations.

He became deeply devoted to this kind of change-making. At the World Bank — and in consulting roles with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development — he traveled around the globe, tracking how instructional and educational media and communication innovations advance lesser-developed nations with literacy, health care and educational planning.

But Manduley ran toward even larger goals, too. After full days, he often sprinted from the World Bank offices to arrive on time for night classes at Georgetown University, where he earned a master’s degree in foreign service with a focus on Latin American/Caribbean studies.

By the early 1970s, he was an accomplished professional who had worked in Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Brazil. Still, he wanted to advance his career.

He set his heart on studying at Pitt, he says, so that he could be part of the world-class intercultural education then emerging on campus. When he was admitted for PhD studies at the School of Education, he was excited to begin working beside experts including Professor Seth Spaulding, a thought-leader in international development education.

After three years of mentorship, study and coursework, including an apprenticeship with the children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the University became a cherished place for Manduley.

“Pitt’s education took me higher,” he says, crediting his teachers with introducing him to ideas and opportunities that fueled his learning.

In the fourth year of his doctorate study, Manduley returned to Washington, D.C. He needed to be closer to the public school where, as part of his dissertation, he monitored teachers and principals engaged in an instructional radio project. On the weekends, he made the trip back to Pitt to consult with his research committee. Finally, in the fall of 1974, he successfully defended his work, completing the final step required to earn his degree.

Before graduation the following spring, Manduley’s academic and professional network connected him with an exciting United Nation’s project: the 1979 International Year of the Child, which was intended to bring attention and resources to the wellbeing and education of children around the world. Though the project was four years away, preparations—including outreach to universities and media outlets—had to begin immediately. So, off he went to France, South Korea and other parts of the world, pouring himself into the work he loves.

His trajectory and fast pace forward meant he was unable to return to Pitt to accept his doctorate degree alongside his peers and mentors at commencement.

In the 40 years since, Manduley (EDUC ’74G) has forged a livelihood that has whisked him off to 50 nations and varied cultures. He’s served in high-level positions with government and private agencies where he addressed issues around diversity, media as a teaching tool and equity through education.

He accomplished so much, but, recently, he realized something was missing. He still wanted to “graduate” from Pitt. So, after retirement, with a life full of achievements and a family to share in the commencement with him, Manduley decided to fill in the gap.

A few months ago, he reached out to Pitt’s School of Education to ask if he could make up for lost time by participating in the 2023 doctorate commencement ceremony. The idea was welcomed by Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Endowed Dean of Pitt’s School of Education. She was briefed on the request by Michael Haas, the school’s director of development and alumni affairs.

“I was beyond thrilled to say ‘yes,’” she says. “Over the years, Dr. Manduley has been such a positive and transformative educational influence for so many people.”

And so, that is how he found himself back on campus on April 27, standing in full regalia and taking part in the time-honored rite of commencement – something he has never done before.

At the ceremony, in a surprise to Manduley, he is one of the final graduates to cross the stage. Kinloch herself has the honor of hooding him, a ritual signifying the completion of a graduate degree. She hugs him and then escorts him across the stage. Manduley beams as he receives a standing ovation. His wife and two adult children cry.

“I could have dropped to the floor,” he says of the overwhelming feelings he experienced on that stage. “When my name was called and I started to walk forward, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it was happening, but it’s been worth the wait. That’s for sure.”


This story was published on May 10, 2023.