'Twas The Night Before Graduation

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - This is a poem to celebrate the seven students who make up the first graduating class of the Zabuli Education Center -- the first school for girls in a small village on the outskirts of Kabul Province. Here, they've defied all the odds to become one of the most successful schools in the country. Today is their graduation day.

'Twas The Night Before Graduation

'Twas the night before graduation
when all through the school
The excitement was building
Dads, time to throw your pakhol!

Caps and gowns were all hung
By the staircase with care
In hopes that graduations here
Would no longer be rare.

The seniors were working
All late into the night
Helping mothers and siblings
Without guidance of light.

And Razia in her slippers,
and I in her socks
Were making rice pudding
No recipe, no clocks.

When out in the village
There arose such a clatter
I sprang from the stove
To see what was the matter.

Away to the gate
I flew in high gear
Then remembered to stay hidden
Lest the Taliban be near

The moon cast a soft glow
On a blue minaret
As the state of our world
Filled me with regret.

When what to my wondering
eyes should appear
But a tiny young girl
with wide eyes and no fear.

With a little toy kitten
hung by a string
I knew in a moment
she'd make my heart sing

More rapid than eagles
her dreams out they came
She shared them, then shouted them
and gave them all names!

Now, Rafia! Now, Shakira!
Now, Mursal and Negina!
On Aziza, Yalda and Breshna!
You're my Afghan Athenas!

"I'm Uzra!," she sang
"And I've just turned five!
I'm coming to Kindergarten -
look I've arrived!"

"One day, I will graduate
just like you.
How can I do it?
What do I do?"

As adventurous travelers
Who know from the start
When they meet with a fork
To decide from the heart

So into the office
Uzra, she flew
Registering for Kindergarten
with a "Please" and "Thank you"

And then, in a twinkling
I heard from her lips
A gnawing self-doubt
Her mood was eclipsed

As I reached out my hand
And began to clutch hers
I could feel her body shaking
All tension and nerves

She was dressed all in rags
From her head to her foot
And her face was all tarnished
With ashes and soot.

A bundle of sticks
She carried on her head
"I'm an orphan," she told me
"Because my father is dead."

Her eyes - they had tears
Her bottom lip was aquiver
"My shoes do not fit,"
She said with a shiver.

She spoke for a while
And then held her head high
"My shoes are not learning,
it's me who will try."

Her face was alight
Cheeks rosy and pink
"I can really be a senior
one day? Do you think?"

She sprang to her feet
Gave string kitten a tug
Then turned on her heels
Into my arms for a hug

Then away she skipped
down the dusty dirt trail
Ready to write
Her own life's tale

And I heard her exclaim
as she followed her dream
"I can do what they've done
This Class of 2015!"

From L to R: Shakira, Mursal, Breshna, Rafia, Aziza, Yalda, Negeena