A Joyful Collision

Molly DiLeonardi '15 (center) with her Cameroonian host parents, Daniel and Rose Tchounchui.

Molly DiLeonardi '15 (center) with her Cameroonian host parents, Daniel and Rose Tchounchui. Photo by Christine Baksi.

Molly DiLeonardi ’15 brings Cameroonian host parents to Carlisle for graduation day

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Two sets of proud parents from opposite ends of the world met for the first time this weekend to cheer on a graduating senior who doubled her immediate-family circle while studying abroad. Molly DiLeonardi ’15, who studied in Cameroon last spring, used a bonus from her first job to fund her host parents’ trip to Carlisle for graduation day.

“In Cameroon, if you are close to someone, they are your family,” said DiLeonardi, who calls her host parents roughly once a week to catch up. “So I think of them as [a second set of] parents, rather than host parents, and I wanted to be able celebrate my graduation with them.”

A double major in French and international business & management, DiLeonardi came to Dickinson on a Benjamin Rush Scholarship and quickly became active on campus, co-coordinating Dickinson’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program and working with at-risk and abused youth through the L.E.A.D. program. She also interned as a Career Center peer coach and has served as a Multilingual Writing Center tutor in French—a language she perfected in Cameroon.

As graduation day neared, DiLeonardi told her Cameroonian host parents, Daniel and Rose Tchounchui, that she wished they could come to Carlisle to watch her descend the storied steps of Old West. The Tchounchuis felt the same, but because of very limited job opportunities, money was tight.

The solution arrived last August, when DiLeonardi, who earned French-department honors, was offered a bilingual, post-graduation position at Bank of Montreal’s Chicago branch. Thrilled by the prospect of a job that will require her to speak French every day, she accepted and decided to use her signing bonus to fund her host parents’ U.S. trip.

Video by Joe O'Neill 

“When I called to tell them that they would be coming to my graduation ceremony, they were ecstatic,” said DiLeonardi. She quickly wrote to the Cameroonian embassy to arrange for their visas, and was delighted to welcome them to Carlisle this weekend.

It’s the first overseas trip for Daniel and the second for Rose, who had attended a previous exchange student’s Dickinson Commencement two years ago. Their children—Patrick, who earned a master’s degree at Eastern Nazarene College and now lives and works in Boston, and Estelle, who recently moved to America to study English and live with her brother—also came from Boston to join the celebration.

“They are extremely excited to be here, and my parents [Robert and Deborah DiLeonardi] are excited to meet them,” said DiLeonardi. Her cheering section also included twin brother Nick and two younger sisters—Caroline and Madeline, also twins—who drove in from the family’s home in Glencoe, Ill., near Chicago.

Daniel and Rose plan to spend a week in Chicago with the DiLeonardi family before visiting relatives in Michigan and then heading home.

“It will be the collision of two worlds, and I’ll be the main translator,” said DiLeonardi shortly before Commencement, noting that her host parents speak little English and her parents, little French. “I can’t wait.”

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Published May 17, 2015