Graduation Season

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, which I used to spend every year at Duke University’s graduation ceremony. As the head of the news office, I wrote the story Duke posted on its website shortly after the ceremony ended.

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Now I am halfway around the world as a Peace Corps volunteer, yet lately I’ve been thinking about graduations again, particularly about my own Peace Corps “class,” pictured above.

Most volunteers serve for two years, with a few extending for a third year and some leaving early for medical or personal reasons. The volunteers who came to Moldova one year before us are now getting ready to transition to the next phase of their lives. A new group will arrive shortly before they leave.

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The departing volunteers recently had their “close of service” conference. That’s them in the group photo above, along with some staff. They are wonderful colleagues who remain committed to their communities, but they are beginning to disengage. Some have been accepted at graduate schools. Others are looking for jobs. Many are planning trips before they return home. Some just want to return to their families.

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Meanwhile, my own group is no longer the bright-eyed incoming class that gathered nearly a year ago in Philadelphia, above, and then flew on to Chișinău. We have now lived through a cycle of seasons here. We can speak the language at least somewhat, ride a crowded microbus and teach a class.

When the new group arrives in a few weeks, they may regard us as wise and experienced, just as I viewed our predecessors. Peace Corps plans to whisk them off to an orientation session for several days. Some of my colleagues will mentor them.

So much of this reminds me of what I saw at the university.

I enjoyed Duke’s graduations. I was always happy to snap photos for families as I left the stadium, even though I needed to race back to my office and write a long story in an hour or so. My biggest challenge was at my last graduation, when the main speaker gave a rambling talk with few usable quotes. I had to sidestep it and focus on other things.IMG_7689

I missed only one of Duke’s graduations during my 14 years there. In 2008, I went instead to the ceremonies down the road at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where my son was graduating. I experienced his event as a proud parent, reminding me that although graduations had become routine to me, they felt different when they touched me personally.

Similarly, the transition now under way at Peace Corps Moldova may feel routine to the staff here; I don’t really know. But for me, it is new, albeit familiar. For almost all of those who came with me, there is only this year and next. We are the ones now at the center of the transition. When Mother’s Day rolls around next time, we’ll be the ones preparing to graduate.

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