Swiftly fly the years as we celebrate graduation #3

Celebrating a fulfilling end to this part of the journey and the blessings of moving forward
Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom

July 18, 2023

It is the best day of our year, and you can feel it the moment the sun breaks through the early summer sky. There’s a buzz amongst the kids. Showers are taken with particular energy. Clothes are chosen that are rarely worn the rest of the year. The teenagers dress with flair: the older boys tuck in button-down shirts; the older girls put on a little makeup.

It’s Graduation Day, a day of passage. And in a country where you are forced to stand still so much of your life, moving forward is a blessed relief.

This year we graduated four students from our bilingual academy – Djouna, Junie-Anna, Widley and Nahoum. All four are excellent students. The truth is, they were ready to go to college a year ago, but had to wait their turn. 

So they spent an extra year of study, and by this point they are chomping at the bit to see what comes next.

But first what comes is the pomp and circumstance. Literally. We play that march composed by Sir Edward Algar over a single speaker that sits in the grass, powered by a long extension cord. The kids line up with their teachers. They walk across our yard, enter under a rented tent, and move down the aisle, past their brothers and sisters and towards their future.

And we sigh.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers

For many years after taking over the orphanage, we never spoke of completion. Every day was a new challenge that led directly into another one. Once you took care of the water situation, you had the food situation. Once you took care of the food situation, you had the gas situation. 

This kid came down with an illness, you addressed it. Another kid had a behavioral issue, you addressed that.

Life at the orphanage was a loop. Nothing finished. It just got bigger and more complicated.

But as we read in Peter Pan — or sing about in “Puff the Magic Dragon” — a moment comes when kids grow up.

And you are forced to consider how you got here.

The first graduation from our school, three years ago, was a single student, Edney, who made a speech holding his cap on his head against a hot summer wind. Edney attended Madonna College in Livonia, Michigan.

The next year we graduated four students, who all received scholarships to Hope College in Holland, MI. They all came through freshman year well, with several on the Dean’s List.

This year, four more donned the cap and gown, two with scholarships to Hope, two more with scholarships to Hillsdale College.

And as each one stepped to podium to address the group, I saw in my mind the childish version of the young adult I was looking at:

I saw the wide and silly grin of a little boy named Nahoum, who was already in the orphanage when I arrived in 2010. Now here he was, 18 years old, with a deep voice, saying, “It is a great pleasure to stand here as a graduate, a brother, and a leader. I have been looking forward to this day – and here it is.”

I saw the big eyes and braided hair of a skinny little girl named Junie-Anna, who now was a fully grown woman of 18, with long flowing locks, who spoke without the hint of an accent in her English: “As I stand before you clad in cap and gown, I look back on my years in school. Some days, I was on top of my game. I got good grades. But other days I slacked off and I struggled. But if I am here today, I must tell you. I did not make it on my own…”

Blossoming even as we gaze

I saw a shy little boy named Widley, who was covered in scabs from bug bites and needed special cream applied to his legs and arms for years, and now here he was, one of the most brilliant students I’ve ever met, elocuting as if he’d grown up in Cambridge: 

“First and foremost, I want to honor the presence of our esteemed directors, our wonderful teachers, and our ever-growing family…I feel immense gratitude to all of you for helping me overcome the trials and troubles that I faced in the past…”

And, finally, I see the goofy smile of a little girl named Djouna, who came to us at five years old and has blossomed into an intelligent, sensitive 17 year-old who writes incredibly well and is brave enough to say this in front of a crowd: 

“As I stand here before you today…I am thinking about my father. Yes, I have one. ‘Well where’s your father, Djouna?’ I don’t know. ‘Where is he?’ In Haiti somewhere. Alive, I believe. I haven’t seen him in 13 years.

“But if you ask me what if feels like to have 60 plus people replace this one single person called my father, I would tell you why even ask?  It feels really good. It feels like my life has meaning. Because without his new family, I wouldn’t be standing here today…”

One season following another

My own father used to sing a song at family events like weddings. It’s called “Sunrise, Sunset” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” I used to think it was the hokiest song ever. I cringed when he sang it.

But as I age, I recall the words, sung in my Dad’s powerful baritone voice, and they hit me like a smack to my face:

“Is this the little girl I carried?

“Is this the little boy at play?

“I don’t remember getting older,

“When did they?”

That’s what Graduation Day is for me, for our staff, for our kids. The little ones from the endless loop have grown up. In a few weeks, they will be leaving our orphanage, heading north with me to start college and a new chapter in their lives. 

They will be nervous. They will be anxious. They will be excited.

But the best part — and the reason Graduation Day is such a special day for us — is that these kids will feel hope. 

Hope. Without it, we are parched. We wander aimlessly. So much of Haiti lives without hope, and is desperately thirsty for it.

DSC2803 grad 2023

We are so grateful to those of you who allow us to spread this hope, to experience the sunshine of the graduation morning, the cheers of the other kids when we announce “You are graduated!”, or the pop song that the teenagers sing, arm in arm, as they let go and wave goodbye to the ones who will be leaving.

“As we go on

“We’ll remember

“All the times, we had together.”

Moving forward — in a country where backward is the common sensation. Best day of the year. Thank you for helping to make it possible.

Mission to

With your help, we can move mountains

Support the continued building of a new home for Have Faith Haiti through the Mission to Move Fund this Giving Tuesday.



    I am sobbing as I watch the graduation ceremony it is beautiful. From the UK and literally from the birth place of Elgar congratulations to the graduates and to all the family. You are all amazing. We live in the city where Elgar grew up and my husband worships at St Georges the Catholic Church he played in. Surely he would be so proud …..

  2. Jackie Berg

    Mitch this is beautiful & amazing for these students! So proud of everyone’s bravery to keep this orphanage going!

  3. Cindy Standen

    This story truly warms my heart. How wonderful to know these students will be furthering their education at terrific universities in the USA. They are the future leaders of Haiti and God knows that country is desperate for people just like them. I wish them all the best and hope they stay on this path of educating themselves and being grateful for the terrific opportunities they’ve been provided. Thank you for the awesome work you’re doing in Haiti.

    • Charlene Tinkham

      Congratulations graduates! May God bless you on your new adventures.
      Mitch, it so amazes me how the Lord blesses you with the strength to do what you do. The Orphanage has come long way from the early days.

  4. Theresa Ramus

    Congrats to the graduates. Such nice pictures. Nice that two of them are going to go to Hillsdale College. I have taken some classes online from there. It seems very nice. All those kids are so lucky and of course they appreciate everything you do for them. Happy for all.

  5. Jim Van Tuinen

    My wife have formed a non profit to feed malnourished people around the world. Kalamazoo Valley Gleaners will provide millions of servings to the hungry in Christ’s name. We have much work to do. This story inspires me to persevere. God bless Mitch and the staff of HaveFaithHaiti for serving God’s needy children around the world. I had tears in my eyes.

  6. Anne Maffucci

    These students were incredibly blessed to be placed in a loving environment, supported by beautiful people who take each day as it comes. Handling each problem, one at a time, from diaper rash to bed bugs, and the most recent invasion to the human spirit, of cartels.
    To be given the opportunity to study in the States, entering as well educated, young people who speak English, is the cherry on the cake. Their world is about become very big, very quickly, and they are prepared. They will always remember from where they came, and hopefully share in the efforts to give back to there ‘siblings’ who will follow in their footsteps.
    Mitch, your most recent efforts to this community, are unparalleled! I wish these young people all the best, and pray that you will have continued strength to lead this small community to great successes.

  7. Donna

    God bless these kids, as well as Mitch and his entire team!

  8. Michele Pisa-Jones

    Congratulations graduates! And to the staff and the Alboms as well.
    I congratulate everyone of you for all of your many accomplishments.

  9. Mary K Hughes

    So proud of the graduates, the school children, the teachers and the supporters.
    As a retired teacher of 40 years, it brings tears to my eyes to witness the “future”.
    Thanks to all who made this happen!

  10. Miss Marjorie Jaszcz

    Congratulations Djouna, Junie-Anna, Widley and Nahoum!! I am so proud of all you have accomplished. It is an honor to support such brave children, now adults. Welcome to America and welcome to Michigan. I am so thankful God has lead you here. Keep Him in your heart all your days.

  11. Lee

    This is so encouraging to see. Congratulations and God bless you all. What a good looking group of kids!
    Best wishes from up here in the California mountains.

  12. Marianne Ciccolella

    Well, this brought me to tears. Happy ones! How could you not be moved reading this narrative and watching the video?? Mitch, you and your staff are all angels, making a tremendous difference in these children’s lives. Literally saving their lives and giving them hope and a bright future. God bless you all!

  13. Ss

    So proud of the accomplishments of these kids. It took a good deal of love, brilliant educators and encouragement to enpower these young adults. Congratulations Junie-Anna, Djouna, Widley and Nahoum! See you in Michigan! ❤️

  14. John Pond

    Hope truly is a wonderful thing. Best wishes to the graduates and all the children at Have Faith.

  15. Chuck and Audrey Furlotte

    Every time we receive one of Mitch’s newsletters, I am filled with so much pride for the small part we have had in supporting this community and school. Now, it’s graduation time and we have watched the film, I think, about three times. In September, more new beginnings for Junie-Anna, Djouna, Widley and Nahoum; congratulations from both Michigan and Tennessee (where we now live and read about you all year long.

  16. Debra Ann Mason

    I am so happy with the success of the students, the staff, the orphanage family and yourself. I have been a monthly donor since reading your book, Finding Nikita several years ago. I have seen pics of some projects before and after.
    I am so impressed. I look forward to more graduations and the children of the orphanage eventually becoming it’s leaders. Continued success and God Bless.

  17. LA

    Congratulations graduates! What an accomplishment! Mitch, thanks for taking all subscribers along on the journey of a lifetime.

  18. Robbin Williams

    i loved reading the comments and the pics and info you share. The good you and your organization do is amazing. I will continue to support Have Faith Haiti. I wish I could do more than $40 a month but we live on Social Security. Meanwhile I thank you for all you do for these kids….God Bless you all.

  19. Nancy Rusten

    Oh, what a beautiful day! Congratulations to the graduates, the dedicated
    teachers, staff, and all who made this time special.
    And to Mitch and Janine, the Lord has blessed you both in all ways. Your
    faith and love have created HaveFaithHaiti to be what it is today.
    Writing this with tears, I feel privileged to help.

  20. Emily Nelson

    And just like that, the world became a little brighter. Sending so much love.

  21. Peggy E

    I want to give you hugs andI am so happy for all of you.

    I am glad to see things happening for you.

  22. Mary Lou Dillon

    It is just remarkable to see these young graduates with such joy on their faces. Congratulations to all of them, knowing from whence they came, and now to where they are going. Have Faith is a village and you know what they say about villages. I’m proud to be a witness to such success.


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