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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Ah Pri, left, a graduate from Leo High School, and Ah Moo Htoo, a graduate from Heritage High School, listen to speakers at an event honoring Burmese graduates.

96 Burmese graduates honored at event

– At IPFW on Saturday evening, 96 recent high school graduates of Burmese descent were honored for their achievements by a number of area organizations.

The event was the result of an unprecedented collaboration among groups that serve area Burmese refugees and immigrants in myriad ways, according to Minn Myint Nan Tin, executive director of the Burmese Advocacy Center.

The Burmese American Society, Golden Moon TV, the Burmese Muslim Education and Community Center, and the United Zo Organization all played roles in organizing the event.

“These are ethnic, religious and social organizations that worked together and worked hard,” Minn Myint Nan Tin said.

Nyan Aung of the Burmese American Society said he hoped that even more organizations would get involved next year.

The event consisted of more than just a graduation ceremony.

It was also a career and collegiate fair and a celebration of Burmese cuisine and culture.

The ceremony included a speech on video from leading Burmese political dissident Min Ko Naing.

Representatives from IPFW, the University of Saint Francis, Ivy Tech and ITT Technical Institute were on hand to help some students plan the next steps in their lives.

Minn Myint Nan Tin said some of the graduates honored had already enrolled in college.

Jumila La, most recently a student at Heritage High School, said she would be entering a biology/pre-med program at IPFW in the fall.

She said the best part of the event for her was being able to interact with a large segment of the local Burmese community. Minn Myint Nan Tin said 85 percent of the graduates were refugees.

“They came here and encountered language barriers and cultural barriers,” says Thiha Kyi of Golden Moon TV. “Adaptation takes awhile, but shorter for the children than the parents. These kids have been in refugee camps since they are born.”

“They were systematically challenged and culturally challenged,” Minn Myint Nan Tin said. “They had to make new friends and adjust to new cultures. Mostly, they have done pretty well.”

As much as the children have had to grapple with, Nyan Aung said, their parents had to contend with even more.

“I am very proud of this generation, but I am also proud of their parents,” Nyan Aung said. “Their parents are heroes.”

The successes that these children achieve in life, Nyan Aung said, will allow them to help their parents.

The 2010 census put Fort Wayne’s Burmese community at 3,800 people, although some aid agencies estimate the total is higher.

Nyan Aung said he has seen a lot of changes that make him hopeful about the future.

“When I came here, there were less that 100 Burmese people (in the city),” he said. “When I heard that there would be 96 students graduating this year, I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ Times are changing. I want to see what happens in the next four years.”

He said he hopes this ceremony leads to more collaboration and more resources available to Burmese refugees and immigrants who want to succeed in this country.

Minn Myint Nan Tin said the ceremony is a first step.

“Absolutely,” she said. “This is just the beginning. We have a long way to go. Personally, I pray that the world is not going to be hard for (these students).”