Many of you have heard me talk about Lydia for years now, but some may be wondering who she is. I met her when she was a junior in high school, shortly after I moved to the town where she went to school. She came with a group of students to my apartment each week to practice English, and even then she stood out as someone who cared about matters deeper than just the surface level of life.
Just before her senior year started, and just before I began my teaching job at her high school, Lydia asked if she could move in with me so that she would have a quiet place to study for the intensely competitive college entrance exams during her last year in high school. It would be a huge help to her—she had seven roommates in her dorm room, and not all of them cared about advancing to college. It didn’t take me long to decide to let her move in, although the decision came with some trepidation at being responsible for a teenager. I thought I was just getting a roommate, but the school required me to sign papers saying I would act as her guardian before they would release her from the dorm. The next thing I knew, I was having a parent-teacher conference with her homeroom teacher—and I was in the position of parent.
Over the months that we lived together, Lydia and I saw each other at our best and worst, and we had many late night conversations about the purpose and direction of life. She also learned to appreciate a nice spaghetti dinner, became a coffee drinker, and watched quite a few episodes of “Alias” that year (try using your second language to catch someone up on the plot of that show!).
On the school breaks, I visited her family’s village and tried to get to know her parents and younger siblings. Her mom came to stay at my apartment in town a few times, too, and over time it became apparent that even if Lydia could score high enough to go to college, her parents couldn’t afford to send her. Several among you, my friends, helped me put together a scholarship fund for her, and one year after she moved in with me, I found myself on the sleeper bus headed for the provincial capital to take Lydia to college. Her parents asked me to go in their place to help Lydia enroll in classes and move in to the dorm—and I went proudly.
Lydia was the first student ever from her village to graduate from junior high, a 2 1/2 hour walk from her house. She was the first to graduate from high school. And next year, she will be a university graduate.