If my exchange student gave your commencement address…

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Soon another academic year will draw to a close (except for all you George Fox students who have already fled Newberg for your summer adventures leaving the rest of us lagging behind for another full week!). Commencement ceremonies will punctuate the end of one season and the beginning of something new. There will be tears of joy, celebrations of accomplishments, and moments to reflect on the road that has been traveled as well as the one that lies ahead.

As much as attending two graduation ceremonies per year are thrilling occasions(ahem)—an opportunity to don colorful regalia and sit through an always inspiring and captivating commencement address followed by the organized chaos of calling each graduate’s name, watching them maneuver across a stage (many on very high heels) to receive a fake diploma and shake the president’s hand while some family members and friends hoot and holler over their graduate’s accomplishments—I’m mostly focused this time around on my personal horizon.

My year of mothering is about to come to an abrupt end as our German exchange student prepares to return to his home in Germany.

It hardly seems like it has been more than a couple of months since David joined us last August. Since then we have watched him learn to play American football and baseball; marveled at his musical abilities, enjoying several hours of listening to him practice his clarinet; witnessed his English language improvement; and most recently have shared in his anticipation over his upcoming prom (and also first date).

A full year it has been; one of great joy and new experiences. From the day I picked him up and he was hesitant to speak afraid he would say the wrong word to the evening he was awarded the most valuable defensive player on the Junior Varsity football team, David has been a wonderful addition to our family.

His unmitigated excitement the day we took him to see the Dallas Cowboys play the St. Louis Rams is something I’ll never forget. And his beaming smile while standing in the Paluxy Riverbed looking down at dinosaur tracks still reminds me of his potential for wonder and amazement. Food, too, is an experience David relished evident in his journal where each day he wrote not only what he did but what he ate. New kinds of fruit we found at a local Asian market gave us plenty of interesting options: dragon eyeballs, passion fruit, and lychee, became a few of our favorites. He even didn’t hesitate when I offered him an order of mountain oysters from a local diner in Dodge City, Kansas.

Truthfully there has been little mothering to do this year. Perhaps a rare gem, David did not need to be told to do his homework or pick-up his clothes, or stop watching too much television. He helped me cook our meals and clean the dishes. There were a few late nights when after falling asleep on the sofa I had to wrestle myself awake to stumble into the car and pick him up from a friends’ house. But these were miniscule sacrifices to make.

And, even though this year is primarily about David’s experiences, of providing an avenue to positively affect a young person’s life from another part of our shrinking world, I know he has changed me, too.

Because of him, I have been reminded of my gratefulness to my parents for the work they did to shape me. I am more cognizant of how easily I fall into old patterns of living and being when instead there are infinite possibilities to be explored if I will only be open to them. And his infectious laugh has taught me that while life can be serious and often needs to be taken seriously, there are appropriate limits. Really.

No one has asked me to make a graduation speech, and probably never will. But, if I were the one tasked with saying something meaningful to a bunch of eager graduates excited to throw their caps in the air, I’d encourage them to take a page out of David’s journal:

  • Seek out new experiences, making the most of every opportunity to get because you probably won’t get them again.
  • Laugh a lot as you relish the amazing gift of life.
  • Create relationships, knowing that friendships are stronger than walls or borders.

In other words, don’t just let life happen to you; go out and live it.