This month, more than 1,300 seniors graduated from Vancouver schools, and I’m reminded that this district is blessed to educate so many young people, with thousands of stories of resilience, achievement, perseverance, hopes and dreams. Some of the new graduates had attended Vancouver schools since kindergarten. We watched them grow up over the past 13 years and transform from children into young adults.
Some are newer to the district, and their journeys began far from Vancouver. Like Haya, a recent graduate from Skyview High School.
Haya’s family is originally from a country in Southwestern Asia. Like many parents, Haya’s mother and father immigrated to the United States looking for better jobs and opportunities. Haya was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She’s an American citizen.
After Haya was born, her parents left the United States. Haya attended an academically rigorous private school overseas. As she approached her senior year of high school, she and her family began to consider her college options. Eventually they decided Haya should finish high school in the United States.
Haya’s parents and sibling could not make the move with her for political reasons. However, she had grandparents and relatives who are now American citizens living in the Vancouver area. And Haya’s new school, Skyview, welcomed her.
“I was first of all very, very happy. I was very positive. Teachers were really helping me out. They knew I was a new girl. They showed me around the school. They showed me how to do things on the iPad and Canvas, all that technology I never had. I made amazing friends.
“Meredith Wales, Lydia Brooks—oh my gosh, all of them—Dave Armstrong, Bob Brands, Ms. Cornelius, Scott Rice. Each and every one of my teachers, they’ve been amazing to me. They’ve been so patient.”
Haya challenged herself and flourished during her year at Skyview. She took four AP classes. She made up for 17 years without extracurricular activities at her previous school.
“I’m in Climate and Culture, Diversity Committee, Model UN. I’m in Natural Helpers; it focuses on exchange students and helping them get into Skyview’s atmosphere. I’m also in tennis.”
At Skyview, the focus on trust, integrity and excellence in all areas created an environment that she embraced.
“It’s just a positive atmosphere in general of making sure that everyone’s on track and everyone’s working with each other to help benefit each other. It’s just a very safe environment for everyone. I very much recognize that and appreciate that a lot.”
Meanwhile, Haya’s family also was making changes. They planned to leave behind the political unrest and conflict of the region where they lived and applied for asylum in a country outside of the United States.
Haya graduated on June 14 with her Vancouver family, friends and Skyview staff cheering her on. But three people could not attend her graduation: her mother, father and sibling.
When this interview was recorded, a few weeks before she received her diploma, she reflected on how she’d feel during the ceremony:
“I love my friends and my old life and my parents. At the same time, I’ve very happy about the friends I’ve made here at Skyview. It’s just going to be a mix of emotions. I’m definitely going to be crying. I’m definitely going to be thinking of my parents because I know they can’t be there, but they’re there in heart.”
This story takes a positive turn though. Haya’s family is expected to be granted asylum soon, and Haya will be reunited with them. This summer she’ll also travel to China to add Mandarin Chinese to the three languages she already speaks. She’ll spend the following year volunteering.
When she begins college, she plans to study international affairs, diplomacy or maybe political science. She wants to tackle immigration and civil rights issues by working in law and government. With her knowledge, maturity and global perspective, she’ll add immense value to whatever she chooses to do.
I’m so proud of Haya and the entire class of 2018 and everything that they’ve learned and accomplished. Whether they start college, join the workforce, travel or spend time planning for their future, I’m excited to see what they’ll do next. I wish them and their families all the very best.
I’m equally proud of the entire VPS staff for all their hard work. It takes a million accumulated efforts by caring adults to get even one student to commencement. We are all in this together, from our students’ first day of preschool to last day of senior year. Graduation isn’t the only indicator of a successful K-12 experience. But it is a time for us all to celebrate.
Thank you to everyone in this amazing district.