High notes, sad notes accompany Gimnasio Vermont graduation

At a special graduation ceremony July 21 in McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall for 22 Colombian teenagers who have spent their last three weeks sharing quarters in Saint Michael's College's Cashman Hall with 22 fellow English-learners from International Christian University in Japan, the most affecting lingua franca was music

It seemed that the program's traditional exchange of personalized "gifts," this year in the form of musical numbers at the end of a short program, was most eagerly anticipated by everyone, including the full Japanese group out in force to cheer on their new friends. The Japan group will be staying on campus and learning for another three weeks, but the Colombians from Gimnasio Vermont in Bogota, a private school that has been sending groups to Saint Michael's for the past 20 years under the guidance of vice-rector Clara Galvis, were off the following day to Niagara Falls and Toronto and then home.

To set the tone of a poignant parting during the ceremony's final portion, Gimnasio Vermont student Cesar Diaz played a beautiful and haunting Chopin etude on the Recital Hall's grand piano. The Japanese group then returned the favor by singing a traditional farewell and graduation song -- a cappella and in tight unison, in their native tongue. According to a program, the lyrics translated to "Now, it may be our time to part, but our future is just beginning to take flight, believe in this…" To make time for the final dance performers to prepare and get into costume, Diaz gamely played an impromptu encore of a more modern piece by an Italian composer.

Japanese students sing at Gimnasio graduation

Japanese students sing for their Colombian friends Monday.

The final dance group turned out to be the real show-stopper with a series of Columbian dance numbers that were appreciated from the audience with rhythmic clapping and cheers. Many of the dancers wore traditional costume elements in the form of ornate dresses for the girls and hats and scarves for the boys. Their youthful exuberance burst infectiously among the audience.

Daniel Evans, director of the English Language, noted in opening remarks how the Japanese and English learners from other world nations on campus this summer really "soaked up" the pulsing dance rhythms of the Colombian cohort's Latin culture. Evans thanked the many program instructors who are now off to English-teaching work in locations as far-flung as Morocco and South Korea.

Karen Talentino, vice president for Academic Affairs, told the groups how impressed Saint Michael's administrators have been by their enthusiasm for learning and the respect that they show to faculty and to one another. "We're so proud to call you Saint Michael's students," she said. "Thanks for the memories. We hope you will come back to visit."

Cesar Diaz performs a piano piece

Cesar Diaz performs a piano piece during Monday's graduation ceremony in McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall.

Faculty speaker Pat LaRose called the last three weeks "pure joy" as the students worked and played hard, sharing the salsa and merengue music that was "the musical soundtrack of summer." She noted that group leader Galvis has high expectations that largely explain their many successes.

Student speakers Maria Vasquez and Laura Zarrate Parrado saluted Galvis too, saying how their most motherly of leaders "wants us to be safe, but also have fun everywhere," so she sees to it that they do. The two girls were among well-dressed graduates who later walked across the stage to pick up their certificates, to cheers. Courtly young gentlemen from the group gave hands of assistance to the young women in high-heels and dressy finery ascending and descending the McCarthy stage.

One of the Japanese young men stepped to the microphone after his group's song and demonstrated some of his newly learned English … and Spanish. "You guys are awesome – Gracias!" he said.