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“ULYP Graduation.”

When I first heard these words, I was unsure of what the event would consist of. Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to empower marginalized children, youth, and women living in Lebanon, through education. However, the program I was involved with was concentrated in aiding Palestinian refugees and helping them prep for the SAT. The Lebanon’s DukeEngage group, including myself, were unsure as to why ULYP would have such graduation. I assumed it was meant for our current students, but that seemed unlikely since they were just halfway through the SAT preparation summer course. I later discovered that the people that the ceremony was intended for were college graduates who had participated in the Bridge UPC program, the same program my students are currently partaking in.

After discovering who the graduation ceremony was intended for, it wasn’t really appealing to me. It felt as if I would be observing individuals graduating that I did not know nor had any connection with. Nevertheless, we attended the ceremony. The location was very artistic from my view. The theme colors for the room were blue and white, with mirrors as the walls giving it a spacious yet an inclusivity feel to it.

The atmosphere at the ceremony was very emotional, speakers varied from the ULYP’s very own founder to student’s who were graduating. It was touching seeing ULYP’s founder tearing up as she tried to talk; it was evident how much this occasion meant for her. She had a vision for these students and observing them fulfill and surpass such expectation must have felt surreal. The student’s themselves gave powerful speeches, about not only the obstacles they have overcome but also advice to there fellow peers on how to continue moving forward. “You can continue to be a victim of the situation you are in, or you can be your own hero in your life story.” This quote from one of the student’s speech stuck with me because it gave me an insight into the hard work these individuals have gone through to be where they are today. I cannot possibly understand their hardships and sacrifice that they have made nor will I pretend that I do. But I don’t need to be placed in their shoes to understand that their academic pathway was not easily achieved, they had to work harder than most to achieve the same goal. Despite not knowing any of the graduates personally, I was still proud of what they have accomplished.

It was rather unexpected but in the mist of this graduation, I obtained a valuable lesson from it. By seeing these ULYP graduates, I was observing at firsthand what my students are striving towards. It was then that I realized that my role in these students’ journey is very minimal yet still valuable. It is pleasing to understand that I am partaking in such a beautiful goal/process. These student’s dreams vary, but they all share a similar common value: obtaining academic success in hopes to obtain a job to not only provide for themselves but for the ones they love as well. These graduates did not allow their circumstance to be an excuse but rather used their situation as fuel. It’s admirable. It’s honorable. It’s something we should all aim for.