Last night, I was privileged to attend a high school graduation—my first since my granddaughter’s graduation three years ago. Graduation ceremonies, with their age-old rituals, give us an opportunity to reflect on what we hold dear. They are a celebration of young people and their accomplishments as they start on their journey into the future. Four hundred thirty-three young men and women put on their regalia and walked the stage in front of cheering friends and family,
Lat night’s valedictorian was a young man of impressive credentials. He graduated summa cum laude, meaning his grade point average was higher than 4.0. He wore the gold stole signifying his status, along with some extra cords indicating his leadership in several school organizations. He is heading to college on an academic scholarship. The young man clearly deserved all of the plaudits lavished on him. It was clear, also, that his family, which has supported him throughout his life, deserved some of the credit for his achievements. That is not to take anything away from the young man. It is how things should be.
I’ve heard other valedictorian addresses. This young man’s address hit all the right notes and the usual themes, but it was not a remarkable speech. I don’t think much of it will be remembered. He began by talking about his first day of high school four years ago, in August 2019, as the starting point of the four year journey taken by him and his classmates. What he missed was that all of his classmates didn’t take the same journey.
I was there at the invitation of a young woman who was graduating that night, who was sitting with the rest of her classmates, wearing her cap and gown, but with none of the stoles or cords to show her achievements. The speaker talked about the confusion of that first day of high school—finding their lockers, figuring out their schedules, meeting teachers and classmates. It was not something the young woman could relate to. On, or about, that day, this young woman found herself abandoned on a ranch in a foreign country, where she knew no one, did not speak the language, and did not understand the culture. She had arrived there after fleeing violence and unrest in her native country, after an arduous trek through three nations, and after spending time in ICE detention on the Texas border. The adult who had accompanied her, left no provisions for her welfare. While the other kids who would later be her classmates worried about finding lockers, she worried about surviving.
Fortunately for her, she came to the attention of Child Protective Services who placed her with a family of her own nationality. The next year she entered high school as a freshman, still not speaking English. She took a demanding load of courses which were taught in a foreign language. She worked hard, mastered the content of the courses and the language in which they were presented, and graduated in three years instead of the usual four, She earned a high grade point average that was just shy of the number that would allow her to wear a stole. The rigors or studying and the demands of a job she held in her senior year left no time for school organizations. She will be taking college courses in the summer in order to get a head start on her post-secondary plans. While other graduates are wearing their accomplishments around their necks, she wears hers inside.
This morning I learned a new word that was bestowed upon this graduate by her foster family. Tayacan. It is a Nicaraguan idiom meaning brave, daring, hard-working, and vivacious. Bravo Tayacan girl. I’m proud of you.