Every year, I cancel all appointments just so I could attend one special graduation ceremony. It is an occasion I never want to miss.
How special is this event?
It is a milestone for about 30 students from the LDP (Leadership Development Program) of Compassion International (Philippines).
The LDP is something I keep in the hearth of my heart since I was invited to be one of five, of various persuasions, who serve in its National Advisory Committee (NAC).
The NAC meets these students from all over the country for the first time, four years earlier, through sheaves of papers where their qualifications and recommendations are written down. Then we finally meet them in the flesh for an interview, where my heart breaks and my eyes smart every single time.
They come with stories after stories that the mind couldn't even begin to imagine—how poverty in all its ugly dimensions could cripple even the strongest of spirits. And you wonder how they have coped and how they have come this far.
But then, God shows His mighty power through them, and in the LDP, He continues to uphold them with His manifold grace.
They go through all four or five years of college and on graduation day (also called Pasasalamat or thanksgiving), one could hardly see a trace of the cowed children they once were. A number of them graduate with Latin honors and other recognitions from universities like Ateneo, UP, and La Salle.
The poverty they emerged from is still visible in their parents, who are brought to the graduation rites, but this is obscured by the glow of joy they radiate as they go up to share the stage with their children.
Sometimes several sponsors fly in from other parts of the world to hug and personally congratulate their sponsored child.
For the sixth consecutive year I have had the privilege to be a part of these riveting, tearful scenes. And there's nothing that inspires and empowers me more.
They teach me that agony and adversity can never be conquered by our frail, finite selves. But if we entrust them to Jesus, He will unshackle us from these mortal coils, just as He releases children from the prison of poverty through Compassion International.