The Graduating Class of 2014

Between now and my next post, over half of our 2013/2014 class of international students will depart for their home countries. At this time of year, one can barely open a web page or social media application without reading a torrent of inspiring stories, reams of hopeful advice, and shameless stories of overcoming adversity and success in the face of failure. Well, students and families, this post will be no different, because each and every one of our graduation students deserves to be commended. As your humble admin I try to keep my editorializing to a minimum, but we can forgo that tradition for a day. I will never meet most of you, but this address is for all of you.

Milena Kaufmann from Germany. Graduated from Plainwell High School, MI posing with her host parents.

When I began working for ISE in 2011, I had little knowledge of what student exchange actually was. All I knew was that ISE has an educational mission, and that its scope was large. My tenure with the company began in the mailroom, sending out promotional materials to our field representatives and shipping documents to all corners of the globe. Being there granted me the opportunity to leaf through the miles of print material organized for distribution, and little by little I began to realize what I had become a part of. Even if my experience with our students was indirect it seemed that I was playing a small role in making a few dreams come true, and making the world a smaller, more understanding place.  As I worked my way up, I began to take on more responsibility and interact with the students on a day-to-day basis.


Today I sit in an office and ensure that our students have a safe and educational experience. I speak to our representatives and managers on a daily basis. I help our students connect with their families and make friends. As a part of the organization, I help to make sure that this great social experiment keeps running. And as I field calls, send emails, write articles, and read through reports, I get a picture in my head. I see a student meeting her family at the airport, or a teenager meeting his foreign brother for the first time, or, like so many of you out there, a student adjusting his or her cap and graduation,  listening to a commencement speech delivered in a language that only months before he or she may not have fully grasped.

Beatrice from Brasil just graduated from Cotter High School

I am often amazed at what our students accomplish in the time they have. They take risks and show bravery. They excel and change lives. They add their success to our own and together we get to take part in something larger than ourselves—a collective understanding that reaches across the globe. Thankfully, from where I sit, I get to see the best this program has to offer every day when students, parents, teachers, and our international partners send me photos and stories of our students. And because of that I can tell people I meet with confidence that student exchange is one of the most powerful diplomacy tools ever created. Never since its inception has there been a better way to bring people of the world closer together, nor has there been a better opportunity to show one another that we may not be so different after all.

Niklas Kaiser from Germany graduating from Sandwich HS in Illinois

If I may send you off with a few words of advice, graduates, then please remember this: never lose the ambition that brought you here, question everything all the time, and maintain a responsible and patient suspicion of anyone who tells you that they have it all figured out. Like your exchange program, life should be a journey ever forward into the unknown. If you or I or anyone else had it all figured out, there would be no reason to continue to learn from one another, and there would be no such thing as change and discovery. You have proven already that there is more to see and learn than our lifetimes will allow, but don’t ever let something as rude as time stop you from trying.


This is why I do what I do, and why I owe all of you my gratitude and admiration. You are the brave young people that took the plunge. You are the fuel that moves us all forward. Your spirit is what encourages us all to be curious and kind. Depart with my thanks and congratulations, and make this the world you believe we all deserve.


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