This is my friend Lauren. I like her a lot.
Three years ago, HOPAC was set to have its very first full graduating class. I wanted it to be special. Those were my kids, that I had taught so many years ago, and some had been at HOPAC since kindergarten. They were going to scatter all over the world, and so I wanted them to finish well and have a sense of closure.
Lauren was my partner in crime. We went to the principal, full of ideas for graduation activities. He looked at us like we were asking to take kids to the moon. Why? Because he was British, and in England (and apparently most of the rest of the world), there is no such thing as graduation ceremonies for high school students. (As we have discovered about a multitude of other American high school traditions, such as Student Council, Spirit Week, yearbooks, homecoming....yeah...us Americans do things different.)
But we persisted. We felt it was really important. He gave in a little; we gave in a little. We didn't want our graduation to look American, because most of our kids are not American. We wanted it to be uniquely HOPAC-ian.
Since then, Lauren and I have found ourselves forever on the graduation committee. Not that we really volunteered...it's just kind of assumed now. But as we went through our third graduation this past week, we got all kinds of warm fuzzies. We've gotten all the kinks worked out. Many elements are unique to HOPAC. It's super special to all the families and graduates. Basically, Lauren and I got to help create HOPAC culture.
Getting to create culture is one of the main reasons why I love working there. Nothing more fun.
We even arranged for a lunar eclipse that night, which happened at exactly the same time as the banquet. (We're getting pretty good at this graduation planning stuff).
Thursday was the ceremony. One of the things our principal three years ago insisted on was doing it during the school day so that all the secondary students could be there. We bucked this at first, because it wasn't what we were used to. But you know what? He was right on. All the secondary students love going. It's inspiring and exciting. I had never been to any graduation before my own. I wish I had.
Way back in the year 2000, I was teaching second grade in California. I wanted my class to have pen pals from another country. Since I knew I would be heading to HOPAC the following year, I contacted the second grade teacher and asked her to pen pal with my class. So we did. I still remember some of the names: Ruhi, Sajida, Iksheeta, Yonathan. How I wish I had saved their scrawly second-grade letters!
And on Thursday I saw them all graduate.
This class is remarkable. Twenty-five students, and out of that group we have students attending Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Stanford. All from one class of 25. About six more will also attend university in the U.S., though only 2 are American citizens. (Well, there's also Benji, who has an American passport but has never actually been there, so I don't think he counts).
They wear Maasai cloth scarves. We use typically-Tanzanian decorations. And we don't use Pomp and Circumstance, when we found out it's a song about British imperialism. Not exactly a good choice for an African school.
I got the privilege of honoring Ab with the Service and Leadership Award. Our wonderful Student Council president who blessed us and HOPAC this year.
Gil was voted the key note speaker by the class. Of course, he was amazing.
And he got to present our very own Maggie with the Character award.
Parents that day told me, "Just yesterday they were starting kindergarten." Eek!