NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - It's been a long journey for two young immigrants from Karen.
Shee Shee and her best friend, Say Eh Wah are the very first Karen immigrants, an ethnic group of Myanmar - once Burma, to walk across the stage and graduate with their peers at Nacogdoches High School.
East Texas News has been covering refugees in Nacogdoches since 2011. This is the most inspiring experience.
A typical teenager's giggles come from two best friends who just graduated from Nacogdoches High School.
It's a dream come true for Shee Shee.
"I'm proud of myself because I thought I wouldn't get to cross that stage," Shee Shee said.
Likewise, Say Eh Wah got to walk the stage with her peers.
"My principal told me I could graduate," Say Eh Wah said. "I was so excited."
To fully recognize their accomplishment, you must know the young women's roots. Their parents fled the war-torn country of Burma, now called Myanmar.
"Both of my parents, they were born in Myanmar, and they were forced to flee from Myanmar to Thailand to escape war, violence," Shee Shee said.
There was no escape for Say Eh Wah's grandparents.
"My grandparents were killed by Burmese soldiers, Say Eh Wah said.
The girls were born in a refugee camp on the Myanmar-Thailand border. Shee Shee weighed only two pounds.
"I'm lucky I survived and I'm blessed," Shee Shee said.
The girls lived in separate parts of the camp, never meeting.
"It wasn't fun," Shee Shee said. "Our home was built like a prison."
All the young girls in the camp shared the greatest fear, the security officers.
"Being captured," Say Eh Wah said. "Being raped."
When asked if she had friends who were raped, Say Eh Wah said, "Yes."
The girls survived the dangers and imprisonment.
The United States' involvement brought refugees to Washington state where the girls finally meet.
Employment opportunities at Pilgrim's Pride led their families to Nacogdoches.
Back in 2013, Shee Shee was doing what's required of all NHS freshmen.
"Get ready for my ... tests," Shee Shee said in 2013.
From barely being able to say the word "test," the girls this year excelled in passing exit exams.
"The first two that I passed were biology and algebra, and the second one, it took me awhile, was English and history," Shee Shee said.
The women attribute a team of teachers for their accomplishments. ESL teacher, Katherine Whitbeck receives the ultimate thank you.
"You're awesome, Mrs Whitbeck," Shee Shee said.
It left a devoted teacher almost speechless.
"To know the experiences they had," Whitbeck said with tears in her eyes and an emotional pause. "To know the experiences they had before they came to this country and to see them get to be a part of this culture as well and to preserve their own and I think it really means quite a bit to me, as well as the other teachers."
The young women have learned a lot, but experiences provide the biggest life lesson.
"That there's always obstacles, no matter where you are, but all we can do is fight against obstacle and face it," Shee Shee said.
Shee Shee's American-born little brother will grow up in an entirely different environment.
The family is packed for a move to Arkansas where Shee Shee will attend junior college in preparation for a nursing degree.
Say Eh Wah will stay in touch through social media while pursuing higher education here in East Texas.
Friendships are valued, so much so that Shee Shee presented a handbag from her native country to an unexpected recipient.
Both girls say they want to return to Thailand to care for the sick and injured in those camps. According to Reuters and the website, Burma Link, about 100,000 remain in Thai camps. Democratic changes in Myanmar could lead to refugees going home.
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