216 Smiles

216 smiles.

Last week, I had the chance of seeing 216 smiles- 216 very distinct smiles.

Some young, some old. Some were extravagant and bursting at the seams, and some reserved. But, all 216 were beautiful!

I remember the anticipation I felt on the two graduation days that I have experienced. When I was 17, I was able to walk up on stage at our city’s large civic arena and receive my high school diploma.

I remember how I felt on that day. It was the beginning of a new era for me. I had completed 13 years of schooling under the guiding hands of excellent teachers and my parents. I had a whole new life ahead. Within a few months, I was moving away from home to begin my college (university) career.

I walked up on stage, I was handed my diploma, and I felt the burden of all of those years of hard work and study be lifted off of me, and all I could do was smile.

I remember the day I received my Bachelor degrees. I had written the huge, 60 page English literature thesis paper. I had performed my senior vocal/ piano recital. I woke up that morning and looked out of my on-campus apartment window, and I could not believe that those long five years of intense study were finished.

On that day, I stood and sang as a part of my university choir one last time to open the ceremony. I walked up on stage, surrounded by all my professors in their doctoral garb, and once again, I felt a burden lift. I was finished, and all I could do was smile.

Last week, I was the one standing on stage “handing out” the diplomas.

I had the opportunity of awarding Bachelor of Theological Studies diplomas to 216 Armenian students.

Some were young and eager to start their future. Others were pastors in their 50s and 60s- ministers who had shared the love of Christ when it was forbidden under Communism. Pastors who finally had a chance to get the education they desired and deserved.

I watched as each student’s name was called, and the tassel on their hat began to sway back and forth in rhythm with each excited step as they approached the stage.

In Armenia, it’s not culturally accepted to always smile – especially when receiving something as serious as a diploma, on stage, in front of everyone.

I watched as many of them tried to hold back the grin; to remain in control of their face; to remain serious and pious for the event.

But, they all failed.

As they touched their Bachelor degrees for the first time, each person’s individual smile began to overwhelm the social norms and emerged wonderfully victorious.

I had the privilege of observing 216 students, one-by-one, who reveled in the fact that they had accomplished something they had never thought possible.

216 Armenians that finished the course.

216 framed diplomas up on the wall.

216 unwritten futures.

All we could do was smile- a glorious, proud and care-free smile.