This year 23 of our students graduated from the equivalent of junior high & high school – and ALL of them have plans to continue their studies! In a community where nearly half of students drop out by middle school, these students’ accomplishments are amazing. And so are their dreams. They have battled challenges that many other kids around the world could scarcely imagine, and yet, here they are, conquerers for a day. The graduation festivities on Saturday included speeches from all the staff, a few older students, and fellow graduates. We celebrated with flowers and gifts to honor their hard work and success, and finished it off with a BBQ dinner at a restaurant and a trip to Chiang Rai’s Saturday walking street. One speech from an older student stood out in particular. This student told of the challenges he has had to face. Though he loves studying and learning and dreams of one day becoming a lawyer, not everyone has encouraged his dreams. His mother told him after Grade 6 that he should quit school and work. Yet he kept going. After Grade 9, his father who told him it was really about time he quit school. He kept going. The walk from the bus stop to his school was a kilometer each way, and as he looked around him, he saw he was the only one to walk it; everyone else was on motorbikes or could afford other kinds of transportation, so he walked it alone. He laughed about how he sang songs as he walked to keep himself occupied, and about how he really hated the days that rained. He is in law school now, but because he is one of Thailand’s stateless, there is no guarantee he will be able to work in his field when he finishes. That never stopped him. He said he doesn’t know what the outcome will be, but he has a dream and will continue to follow it, come what may. He told the other students to follow their dreams too. He said the worst part has been the fear he lives in due to being stateless. His identification papers prevent him from leaving the local area. To go even to the next major city would be to risk getting caught by police. That includes going to Bangkok where he would need to go to take tests for his degree – some he wouldn’t even be allowed to take without a national ID card, which he does not have. He told the other students that though they might think they have less than other people, they should remember he has had even less than they.
Our students are dreamers. They dream hard, and given the slightest opportunity, they run with it. We stand and applaud them, each and every day.