A week in the life of a Burmese refugee

(Courtesy of Bawi Par)

(Courtesy of Bawi Par)

It’s a big week for Bawi — follow the 18-year-old as she prepares to graduate high school and give her valedictorian speech.


This morning, I woke up at 9:30 a.m. One of the perks of finishing school is being able to wake up as late as I want. I got ready for the day by washing my face, brushing my teeth and putting in my contacts. I was planning to get to my friend’s house by 11 a.m. so that I could buy my dress and shoes for graduation. However, that didn’t work out so I cancelled and changed back to my comfortable clothes. Then I spent an hour and a half watching “Sherlock Holmes” with my brother before working on my graduation speech. 

I felt immense pressure as I wrote my speech. I wanted my words to be impactful and memorable. Before today, I had already changed my speech twice. I wanted this to be my last time changing it. After finishing the draft, I contacted my writing coach. I was fearful that she would decline to help because she was only obligated to help me on a research paper assigned by a scholarship program that I was accepted into. Fortunately, she agreed to help and I felt so relieved and happy. 

To de-stress, I took a walk on a trail near my house with my brother. We talked about how to effectively think and improve oneself and how everything links back to God. After our talk, I realized that the only reason I am the valedictorian of my school is due to God. Had God not blessed my efforts, I would not be able to achieve all that I have thus far. 



Today, I woke up at 7:55 a.m. As soon as I woke up, I had to watch the soup that my sister started to cook. I also watered our garden while listening to a sermon called, “The Paradox of Progress.” In the sermon, Pastor Furtick explained that, as a society, we don’t celebrate those that do the right thing consistently, but those that do the right thing occasionally. The lines resonated with me.

After listening to the sermon, I fixed breakfast for my uncle and me. My uncle is visiting from Burma for my graduation. During breakfast, we discussed the differences between the school systems, jobs and Christians in Burma and America. Since I left my country when I was around 8 years old, I did not have clear memories of the geography nor the systems of the country. 

(Courtesy of Bawi Par)

(Courtesy of Bawi Par)

In the afternoon, my brother and I took a walk on the trail and I practiced riding a skateboard. Then, I called the housing service of my college to ask about the rates and the payment methods for dorms. What I learned scared me because it made me realize I will have to take loans. Loads of questions came to mind. Will I be able to pay the loans back? Will it be worth it? These worries slowly drowned my consciousness and rational thinking.


I attended my friend’s graduation today. On the way to, during and after her graduation, all I thought about was my upcoming graduation. My friend and I live in the same county and even though our schools are different, our graduation venue is the same. That is the reason why I couldn’t help but think about my graduation. I got nervous in the midst of my excitement for her. I thought about all of my relatives, friends and family that were coming and I got worried. I thought about the expensive parking tickets that they will have to pay. I thought about Atlanta’s traffic and how they could get lost. I also thought about my speech. I worried about the length of my speech. I worried about the delivery of my speech. I worried that the audience might not catch the message of my speech. I officially dubbed today as my “worry Wednesday.” I am a ball of anxiety right now. 


I attended my training today for the Posse Scholarship, which is a full-tuition scholarship I received to attend university. The trainings allow the scholarship recipients to get to know each other before we begin university. They also teach us leadership skills in hopes that we will become leaders at our school. 

The topic of today’s discussion was “race and ethnicity.” One memorable moment was when our trainer asked, “When did you realize the race that you are?” My answer was, “The day I stepped into America.” I was born and raised for eight years in Chin, Myanmar. I had no concept of geography and thought my people were the only people in the world. Then, I lived in Malaysia for two years and became aware of the outside world. However, only when I arrived to America did I see the different races that exist in this world. Only when I arrived to America did I realize what my label as a race was. It has been eight years since then. I am grateful to have come and to be able to learn things I never knew about myself and others. 


I got my nails done today. This is my second time getting my nails done. The first time was for prom. Having long and beautiful nails made me feel really good about myself. I love the feeling and decided to get it done again for graduation. However, it is very different from the first time: it is shorter and pointier. The shorter length was all I could afford. The reason being that my first nails were gifts from my mentor and this time they are gifts from me to me. When I become rich, not only will I treat myself to beautiful and long nails, I will also treat my sister and friends to them as well. I wish for them to feel as good as I do when I have pretty nails.

Bawi with her family at her graduation. (Courtesy of Bawi Par)

Bawi with her family at her graduation. (Courtesy of Bawi Par)


The night before my graduation I am nervous but I am prepared. My speech has been printed. My dress, shoes, cap and gown have been ironed and are ready to wear. Parking tickets for my friends and family have been bought. There is one exception to my preparation. I lost my tassel accidentally on Senior Honor Day because that day was particularly hectic. I pray that extra tassels are available and that everything goes well tomorrow. Oh! And I cut my hair today!! More specifically, I got an undercut haircut, which is when the length of your hair is shorter in certain areas, commonly the back and the sides of your head compared to the rest. My hair has been short since 2016 but my hair right now is my most favorite hairstyle of all time. The time right now is 1 a.m. and I have to wake up at 5 a.m. I hope I don’t wake up late.


I woke up late!!! I woke up an hour late, got ready in 15 minutes and did not eat breakfast. I had to arrive to my high school at 6:30 a.m. and get on a bus to the graduation site. Luckily, I arrive at 6:27 a.m. and everything went well after. There were extra tassels and the rehearsal went well. The actual graduation started at 10 a.m. and all of my friends and family were on time. I was very nervous about my speech but I delivered it beautifully, if I say so myself. In the words of the security guard at the graduation, “It was the best speech I heard in the past weeks. And in the past weeks, I was in 18 graduations.” I got a lot of enthusiasm about my speech but nothing made me feel as proud as he did. I am incredibly thankful to God, the source of all of my success. I owe it all to God because He gave me the opportunities, people and skill sets to taste success. Thank you, God.

Thank you to Clarkston Film for connecting us with Bawi. 

Through Assembly, Malala Fund is helping girls around the world share their stories. Subscribe to receive our newsletter and learn about the next generation of leaders.



Bawi is an 18-year-old student refugee from Burma. She loves experimenting with her hair, any artistic activity and the TV show, “Friends.”