Ni Lar Way, the salutatorian of the 2019 graduating class of Bishop Maginn High School.
Ni Lar Way, the salutatorian of the 2019 graduating class of Bishop Maginn High School.

(The following speech was given by Ni Lar Way, the salutatorian of the 2019 graduating class of Bishop Maginn High School. It chronicles what she experienced in America after coming to the country from a refugee camp in Thailand and not knowing any English. Ni-Lar and her family are part of the ethic Karen minority that has been persecuted for years in Myanmar. Ni Lar will attend Sage College in the fall. It is reprinted with her permission.)

There was once a colony of squirrels living together in a forest. Among them, was a tiny weak squirrel, who was always picked on by the stronger and more skilled squirrels. One day, one of the strong squirrels found a tiny hole in a cave with the most beautiful acorn. He tried to get the acorn out of the hole, but no matter what he tried, the acorn would not move. So he gave up. He told his friends and each squirrel tried but the acorn stayed put. So they all gave up. 

The weak squirrel saw them struggling and thought he would give it a go. At first, he tried to bite the stone but it was too hard, then tried to go into the hole but it was too small, and he tried to reach for the acorn, but it was lying too deep in the hole. Despite his many failed attempts, he decided to persist. 

Each day he revisited the hole and tried something new. One day he had an idea. He took some water in his mouth and spit it into the hole. He continued to do this and eventually, the acorn floated to the top. He ate the acorn and became a stronger and braver squirrel. Instead of being egotistical and making fun of the others who were unsuccessful in retrieving the acorn, he decided to share his idea and help the other squirrels to grow stronger. The colony was inspired by his actions and never doubted the weakest squirrel again. This is the story my dad used to tell me when I was a little girl.

I can relate to the weak squirrel in this story because when I first came to America, I did not know any English. I was surrounded by new faces and a new culture. I did not seem to fit in. I felt weak and helpless. In fifth grade during the New York State exam, I could not read or write English. I looked around and saw everybody’s pencils constantly moving. I wanted my pencil to be constantly moving as well. I felt lost and began to cry. This would not be the last time. When I did not know how to communicate and write, I would grow frustrated. I cried a lot in the first few years, but I persisted. 

No matter how many tears I shed, and how frustrating it was, I came to school and put my best foot forward every day. The more I knew, the more I grew stronger and braver. I did this because I knew that education can be one of your strongest weapons, and I could use it to face life and overcome obstacles. It is a key that opens many doors. 

I could not have done this alone; my parents, friends, teachers and most of all God who supported me through the ups and downs were always there for me, and that is what kept me fighting for my future. They are my motivations. The more I learned, the more I wanted to give back to my community and to students like me to help them learn more effectively. Some people might push you down, make fun of you for who you are, but no matter how weak you are at first always try your best. No matter what it is, the challenges and obstacles you have to face, continue to persist because those things will be the rain that makes you grow and prosper. It requires patience and time to grow and get what you want, but if you keep working hard for what you want and do not stop, you will soar like an eagle up high in the sky and no one will be able to stop you. It will feel like when you climb up a mountain and at first, you are tired, you feel like you can not go on and your legs are sore; but the moment you reach the top and see the beautiful views, all the exhaustion and soreness disappear in the midst of the air. Have you ever felt that? 

Thank you, mom and dad, sisters and brothers, friends, every teacher, and my Bishop Maginn family for supporting me and encouraging me in every way you have to be the person I am today and to be where I am today. You are the rungs of my ladder who supported my steps to reach my goals. I am humbled deeply by receiving this honor to speak to you today. It is flattering for a girl like me to achieve this because I have come from a world that has little to no education and opportunity to thrive and to be who you want to be. I am very blessed and thankful. I could not have done it without your support and the strength of God. 

Thank You.