Father Joe and the Mercy Center have an outsized commitment to education for the youth of Klong Toey. There is a strong belief that education is the springboard to a better opportunity. With that in mind, graduation from kindergarten is treated with all due pomp and circumstance. Over 800 children (from all of the Mercy kindergartens) with families gather for the graduation day at Mercy Center honoring the children.
Mercy graduation is a hot ticket. In fact, families have to view the graduation ceremony via TV in a separate room.
The children are split into two groups, morning and afternoon ceremonies due to the limited room. It is a day of military precision as the teachers have to guide group after group of children donned in sharp cap and gown.
The children are piled into the graduation hall and line up to receive their diplomas from Father Joe. Nervous energy and smiles are equally mixed as the kids queue up to receive their diplomas as their parents cheer on while watching video in another room. With their name announced, the child proceeds to meet Father Joe as the camera snaps.
It is their 15 minutes of fame. After calling several hundred names over 2 hours, Father Joe arrives at center stage with mike in hand. For years, Father Joe has given the same inspiring speech. He is not one to mince words, even to a group of boisterous five year olds. Father Joe challenges the kids, regardless of the obstacle, the response is always the same. So if there is a monsoon or your father is a drunk or your mother lost all of the family’s money?” “Go to school!” the kids chime in unison.
The kids in this video are yelling out “go!” to school when Father Joe is speaking to them.
After the speech, the kids file out of the room to the anxious and smiling families. It is a heartwarming moment. The children are given flowers and toys. The next hour is a flurry of photos with families and friends. It is a day of celebration.
The kids file out to their waiting parents[/caption]
And this book about Father Joe changed the trajectory of my life.