Even several hours of steady rain could not dampen the spirits of Sonrise School’s first graduates, their families and friends. Hundreds were on hand for the three (plus) hour ceremony at Musanze’s outdoor stadium, where the grandstand is covered. The thirty-eight graduates entered the stadium from the far side and processed around to the presentation area, carrying the banner that Redeemer children had made for the event. This was a long anticipated day, going back to the initial vision Bishop John Rucyahana had to care for the many genocide orphans, and the early work of partners such as Mustard Seed Project, Church of the Redeemer and Bridge to Rwanda. Several Mustard Seed board members were present, including Bob Dwyer and Joyce Wingett, who suggested the name of the school. Families were there to watch students graduate, teachers shared in the sense of accomplishment, and other dignitaries filled the stands. Bishop John Rucyahana, recently retired as bishop of the Shyira Diocese retraced the schools history, and called the students to a covenant in which they pledged to pursue God, integrity and excellence in their lives. A high ranking official from Rwanda’s ministry of education also spoke, along with several students, including Richard Ndekezi, Sonrise’s “head boy”‘ who visited Chicago last fall. He sends his greetings and love to all the friends he met through Church of the Redeemer.

A great personal privilege for me was being asked to present diplomas. I was the only non-Rwandan granted this honour, aside from the School’s current headmistress. The real tribute is not mine, but goes to those who began the Sonrise School benefit a dozen years ago and shepherded the ongoing support–I simply carry the baton for a lap of the race. It is those people, especially, that I wish could have been here, to see the fruit of their creative labours, and to grant us all encouragement and resolve for the next season.

These students officially finished last fall, but had to wait until March for national exams to be posted. Every graduating high school student across the country must take these exams in order to determine future educational opportunities. Each school, even those that have religious affiliation, is in partnership with the government. So these graduates have been out of class for a number of months. Several of them placed quite high in the national testing, including one who was the top Rwandan student. This is a great accomplishment and honour for the school as graduates now look to jobs and university.

Many said a school like Sonrise could not be built. Others questioned the wisdom of seeking to instill leadership values in children so scarred by the horror of genocide. Those of the first graduating class have crossed a tremendous threshold. They now get a chance to show us all what they have learned. If any people know the meaning of the word ‘hope’ they certainly do, and will continue to define it for themselves and the rest of us.