CCS refugee foster children earn high school diplomas; urged to continue their education

Friday, Jun. 13, 2014
CCS refugee foster children earn high school diplomas; urged to continue their education + Enlarge
CCS refugee foster children and their families celebrate their graduation. IC photo/Marie Mischel
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

(Editor’s note: Because of privacy concerns, the last names of the refugee students have been withheld.) 
SALT LAKE CITY — Without their parents, they flee from war-torn countries, from drought, from death, and yet they are children who, when they come to the United States faced yet another formidable challenge: school, without knowing the English language. 
Even this they overcome. Each year, children who have come to Utah through Catholic Community Service’s Refugee Foster Care program complete their high school education and earn their diplomas from local high schools. This year, there were 15 graduates; they were honored by CCS with a ceremony at Jordan Park.
“All refugees have gone through very, very difficult times,” said Gerald Brown, director of Refugee Services for the state Department of Workforce Services, speaking at the June 6 ceremony.
Brown called the recent high school graduates heroes, and urged them to continue their studies. “I know that you’re going to make our community better,” he said.
Two of the graduates spoke as well; both acknowledged the difficulties that all refugee children face; they also urged their peers to continue their education.
“All of you know that life is hard when you come to America,” said Steve, who came to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and received his high school diploma the night before the CCS celebration. 
Rather than thinking of a high school degree as a ticket to the good life, he suggested that the students think of it as their “ticket to change the world. … This is not the end of our education. We need to learn more; never stop learning. … For the young ones who are still [in school,] please don’t get out of school, because if we all did it, you can do it too. And good luck with high school, for the little ones.”
“I know that when we first came here life was really hard; we’d go to school, we didn’t know how to speak English, we didn’t know how to read it, or we didn’t understand it,” agreed Pamela, who has been attending the University of Utah for the past year. She also is from the Congo.
When Pamela first started college, it was difficult and she thought of quitting, she said, but when she saw that she was earning top grades she was encouraged to continue; she now plans to get a bachelor’s degree and then go on to medical school.
“Finishing high school is not the end of everything; it’s like the beginning of life,” Pamela said, adding that college isn’t easy, but “you should definitely consider going to college because college is the key to life.”
Another of the graduates is Kuku, who left his homeland of Sudan for Kenya when he was 10 and came to Utah through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program at the age of 15. He was this year’s recipient of the BYU Management Society Scholarship, the Olene Walker Scholarship, and the Courageous Award from West Jordan High School. 
In his winning essay Kuku stated, “I feel like some students [here] don’t take school quite as seriously as the students in Africa. I think that my perspective is a little bit different because I know what life can be like without an education. And I want a life that is different than the one I grew up having,” according to a CCS press release.

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