Yusanat Tway is a BTC senior at Humboldt High School who will be attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Check out her 2019 Booyah Bash speech!
Once upon a time, there was a little girl from Burma. Her family escaped persecution from Burma because, like the Rohingyas, her Karen people have been and are still being persecuted by the military government. She grew up in a Thai refugee camp until 2007, when, at the age of six, she and her family immigrated to the U.S. to start a new life.
That was when I started my education journey. During my early months in first grade, I came home crying every day. I felt isolated and alone, unable to communicate clearly in English and desperately missing my parents and siblings. But after the first few months, I found a best friend who was also Karen and I started to feel as if I belonged. In fact, my first real memory was winning the perseverance award at the end of first grade. I felt very proud and motivated to learn, knowing the support that my teachers and peers had for me.
Then, in the sixth grade, I learned about Breakthrough. In a vague way, even then I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I just did not know how to get there. But I knew that Breakthrough could help me – and, miraculously, I got in!
As I look back on my six years in Breakthrough, I certainly remember loving the summer programs. Even though I was going to classes and learning a lot, it just didn’t feel like school. The other students were unlike any group I had ever known. While we were all from different backgrounds, we shared the same drive to succeed and the same commitment to support one another.
One memory that is forever embedded in my mind is the Breakthrough Leadership Program trip to Camp Menogyn (Boundary Waters Canoe Area). Sixteen Breakthrough students spent a week in the wilderness – canoeing, camping, and learning how to survive. It taught me physical and mental strength that I did not realize I had. I learned to carry a whole canoe all by myself over long portages. Before we went on the trip, I had been very pessimistic about how my team was going to last the week with our two canoes. But, by the end, the team had grown into a committed and collaborative unit. Again, I belonged.
This experience encapsulates what Breakthrough has done for me. The first and most obvious benefit has been academics. Because of my enriching summers at Breakthrough, I was always one step ahead in classes and I am proud to say that I will graduate next month as the salutatorian of my class. But Breakthrough has helped me develop more than just academic skills. Breakthrough gave me role models to emulate, everlasting personal empowerment, standardized test preparation, and especially in my senior year, support with the college application process. Again, I was always one step ahead on FAFSA forms, college essays, and the ACT.
Now that I am equipped with all that Breakthrough has given me, I stand with you as a member of the Class of 2023 at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Just as I learned on the Camp Menogyn trip, I know I will be able to carry the college canoe successfully across many portages ahead. Skills and wisdom that have been embedded in me at Breakthrough tell me that I will always be persistent, determined, grateful, understanding of others, living the growth mindset. I promise to Be Breakthrough as I continue my education journey in college.
Looking back on that young refugee who immigrated to the United States, I am astonished at how different her world has become. Had I stayed in Burma, I would have been illiterate, likely married and a mother by now, a worker in the fields – and always vulnerable to attacks, murder, and rape from government soldiers. But, because of Breakthrough, I can look forward with confidence in college and beyond, knowing that I am no longer a refugee. Now I know I belong – and it is thanks to all of you that I have been privileged to experience this transformation. You have my immense gratitude for your support that has positively impacted many students just like me to have a chance to become the best version of themselves.