This year, international students at the University of Rochester (NY) whose families can’t make it to their college graduations will be supported by surrogate “fill-in families.” Molly Morrison, assistant dean of international student affairs for undergraduates, put out a call to faculty and staff, seeking to match international students with local volunteer families who could cheer for them at commencement, take photos and videos, and maybe take them out for a meal to celebrate. The response was overwhelming and she even had to turn some volunteers away. Lithuanian student Zivile Vebraite said the program “just allows me not to feel alone and allows me to understand that someone cares about me and can help me. It is such an important support, especially now that I’m graduating and starting a new chapter.”

Morrison developed the program after cheering for graduating international students over the years. “It’s been on my mind for a while, because even in normal years, some of our international students aren’t able to have their families come for the ceremony for lots of different reasons,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “But this year, we’re in person again for the ceremony, but it’s even more difficult for families to come—there’s lockdowns in China, there’s visa restrictions in other countries and flights can be very expensive—so families are having to make some really tough choices.”

The program is making a difference. “For me, this program is very important, because I have not been home since before COVID, which means that I have not seen my family for a few years,” Vebraite from Lithuania told the publication. “Graduating from college is a big achievement, and it’s important to celebrate it. And when you are alone, it feels different. When I found out about this program, I thought that it’s so nice of U of R to recognize that we need each other.”

Read more about U of R’s “fill-in family” program here.