Most University of Colorado seniors will have parents, siblings and even grandparents sitting in the stands at the Coors Event Center during this morning’s graduation ceremony.
Yet unlike traditional graduates, international students are lucky to have even one family member in attendance. Long, expensive flights make it difficult for families to travel the distance to see their students graduate.
For CU graduating senior Maytham Alawami, however, there was no shortage of family to cheer him on Thursday as he got his diploma during the Leeds School of Business’ individual graduation ceremony at Macky Auditorium.
Alawami’s parents, who flew to Boulder for the ceremony from their home in Saudi Arabia, shared the exciting day with their son’s local host family, including CU staff member Lisa Tedesco.
“I am very lucky to have family and host family around me during graduation,” Alawami said. “Family is most important to me, so it means a lot that we’re all together.”
Tedesco volunteers as a host family, a local resource and friend for foreign students at CU, through the Boulder Friends of International Students program. Tedesco and her family have been mentoring Alawami since he came to Boulder in 2007, and though he does not live with them, they have become like family.
“Having watched him matured and grow and thinking back on all the different times we shared, I feel a huge pride in his accomplishments,” Tedesco said. “I think it feels much like it would my own child.”
After more then three years of dinners, phone and e-mail conversations and even the occasional holiday celebration, Tedesco said their relationship has grown into a lifelong friendship.
Tedesco said she “demanded an invite” to Alawami’s graduation.
“I called him and said you need to know I’m planning my life around your graduation, so tell me when it is,” Tedesco said.
But her demands were met with appreciation from Alawami, who said he would not think of having graduation without his American family.
“I think it was a mutual demand,” Alawami said. “Something would be lost if she and her family didn’t show up in the graduation. Their presence really matters to me.”
And Alawami said his parents are grateful for the help the Tedesco family has provided him over the years. In fact, it was his Saudi Arabian parents who suggested the program in the first place.
“They studied in the U.S. in ’70s and did the same program,” Alawami said. “In the ’90s, we visited their host family when I was a kid. They wanted me to learn about others and establish the same relationship they had.”
Alawami said several of his friends that are international students have very little or no family coming for their graduation, which makes him even more appreciative of the support his local host family has given him.
Kate Spencer, matching coordinator for the program, said having a host family in Boulder gives the students a local resource to help and advise them during their experience at CU.
“It’s a great program for both the student and the host,” Spencer said. “Not every relationship is as strong as Lisa and Maytham, but occasionally you do see these lasting connections.”
Alawami already has accepted a job in Saudi Arabia and will move home in January, leaving his new family and new home behind — but not forever.
“It will be very hard to leave my friends and family here,” Alawami said. “This is like a second home, but I will definitely hope to come back and visit Lisa and her family again soon.”
“I believe my relationship with Lisa will last more then this. We will stay in touch even after I leave.”