First Karen immigrant graduates from Nacogdoches High School - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

First Karen immigrant graduates from Nacogdoches High School

Shee Ku Wah has her sights set on a college education. (Source: KTRE Staff) Shee Ku Wah has her sights set on a college education. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Shee Ku Wah is the first immigrant of Karen descent to achieve a diploma from Nacogdoches High School. (Source: KTRE Staff) Shee Ku Wah is the first immigrant of Karen descent to achieve a diploma from Nacogdoches High School. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Shee Ku Wah overcame language barriers to reach her accomplishment. (Source: KTRE Staff) Shee Ku Wah overcame language barriers to reach her accomplishment. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Karen immigrant Shee Ku Wah and ESL teacher Katherine Whitbeck give each other a high five for a job well done. (Source: KTRE Staff) Karen immigrant Shee Ku Wah and ESL teacher Katherine Whitbeck give each other a high five for a job well done. (Source: KTRE Staff)
NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) -

A Nacogdoches High School graduate received well-earned recognition for a major accomplishment Thursday night; the NISD School Board honored the district's first diploma earner from the country of Karen.

English-as a-second-language teacher Katherine Whitbeck wanted everyone to meet a student who doesn't give up.

“This is Shee Ku Wah who is a Karen immigrant, and she is the first student to graduate from Nacogdoches High School of Karen descent,” Whitbeck said.

The 20-year-old's family moved from Seattle to Nacogdoches in 2012, one year after numerous Karen immigrants re-located there to work at Pilgrim's Pride.

Before that, her parents made the right choice to move to a Thailand refugee camp, escaping the military Burmese regime that destroyed the village where her family once lived.

“Like Burmese soldiers, they come to village and they burn the village and they killed some people,” Shee Ku Wah said.

“Of course, when they first came in we all called them the Burmese,” Whitbeck said.

With a laugh, Shee Ku Wah shook her head, and said, “Wrong government.”

“And you're not Burmese, you're Karen which is another group of people with their own language,” Whitbeck said.

It's a language much different than English.

“Right, every day you just went, ‘Okay, I learned the meaning of 10 new words,' and I'm still trying to say hello. Kaw leh ah gay. Right?” Whitbeck said.

When Shee Ku Wah corrected her Whitbeck said, “See, I still don't say it correctly.”

Math remained a challenge for Shee Ku Wah.

There were morning tutorials, summer school, afternoon tutorials, and then home study.

Shee Ku Wah said she chose all that extra work because she was disappointed that her friend graduated, and she wanted to graduate, too.

In July, Shee Ku Wah received her diploma, and it showed other ESL students that hard work pays off.

Shee Ku Wah is planning to continue her hard work by studying for college entrance exams.

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