October 27, 2017
Well, after 13 weeks, classes have finally come to an end for the semester. I cannot believe that it was already so long ago that I was sitting in this lecture hall for a Welcome to JCU Ceremony and that this evening I was back in the very same lecture hall for an International Student JCU Graduation Ceremony. Tonight was a wonderful evening organized by the International Student Support Team at JCU, a group of passionate and thoughtful people who go above and beyond to make every international student who ventures to JCU, whether it is for a semester of full degree, feel welcomed like family.
The night began with photos of everyone dressed up and looking snazzy as a string quartet played beautiful music. Below is a photo my Peruvian friend, Daniel, and I. On the right, I am with Alex, one of the JCU International Team members, my German friend, Annabell, and Italian friend, Nunziana. I am so thankful for the friends that I have made while in Australia, all of whom live in countries that I have never been to. (Well, I have technically been to Germany, but just going to Germany for a day to shop doesn’t really count). I hope that I may have the opportunity to visit them all some day in their home towns, as well as have the chance to show them around my own home.
The completion ceremony this evening recognized a total of 132 students, who were either study abroad or exchange students for a semester or more, full degree students who are soon to receive their Bachelor’s degree from JCU, Postgraduate students, or PhD Candidates who are soon going to be presenting their work. We heard a motivating key-note speech from Melissa Banks, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Future International Students. She told us that studying abroad takes bravery and stepping outside comfort zones, which I agree with completely. She also said that while abroad, it is important to take advantage of opportunities fully, to “go hard, or go home” as she said Aussies say.
Next, the certificates were presented to each student. It was hard to not get emotional at this point. “Rachel Suzanne Lertora” was followed by clapping as I received my certificate and tried to not cry as I paused for a photo capturing a moment in time that represents the achievement of my biggest life-long dream. The little girl inside of me who always dreamed of a land half way around the world was pretty amazed that this moment had finally come.
After all of the certificates were presented, a heart warming speech was given by Sydney Jones, an American student who is about to receive her Bachelor’s degree from JCU. Sydney shared that her study abroad experiences have been so influential in her life that she now plans to pursue a career where she can help students discover their own dreams and achieve their own goals through international experiences. Next the song “Color Esperanza” which means “The Color of Hope” was sung by Ana Luisa Zepeda de Alba from Mexico, and a group of other international students who joined in part of the way through. My favorite lines on the song are:
Es mejor perderse que nunca embarcar
mejor tentarse a dejar de intentar
aunque ya ves que no es tan fácil empezar
Se que lo imposible se puede lograr
It’s better to get lost than to never have sailed
Better to try and fail than not try at all
Even though it is not always easy to start
Know that the impossible can be achieved
After drying our eyes, Lorna Hempstead greeted us with a welcoming “Hello” and invitation from the JCU Alumni. This sealed the deal. We are all JCU alumni now! We even received snazzy JCU pins to wear on our blazers and, for those of us still finishing our schooling, a koala bear key chain to hang on our backpacks to remind of us days studying in tropical Townsville as we return home to finish our studies around the globe.
As the newest members of the JCU Alumni, we all made our way to the front of the hall for a group photo and to toss our brand new JCU graduation caps into the air with a last hurrah!
After the ceremony, there was a nice reception where everyone enjoyed good food and drinks while capturing more memories and reminding ourselves that even though it felt like the end, we still have three weeks of exams ahead. But, more importantly, we were also reminding ourselves that even when the exams are through and we all begin another journey, the memories and friendships that we have made here are still to be continued. Although this may feel like the beginning of the end, it is really just the beginning of “see you soon.”