College Essay: Driven by my mother’s sacrifices

Pay Poe
Pay Poe, Roseville Area High School

It was a humid summer day of my fourth year in America when I decided to apply for Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) to help me achieve my goal of a college education.

Until I turned 12, I had no hopes, dreams or future. I never imagined myself going to college.

I inhaled a deep breath and checked the “No high school diploma” box for my parents’ education. My mother, a 57-year-old immigrant widow, works every day just to be able to afford a one-bed apartment for a household of four.

On May 9, 2000, I was born in Burma, now known as Myanmar, under the name Naw Saw K Pay Poe. When I turned 2, my dad passed away and life became difficult. I could sense that people looked down on my family because our household leader was no longer a man. Throughout this experience, I felt my mom’s pain, but she never gave up on me. She shows me and everyone around her that she can live without a man.

When I was 5, my family moved to a Thailand refugee camp because my mother wanted greater opportunities for her family. My mom taught me to take advantage of every opportunity that I have. I learned numerous lessons from growing up with my mother. She inspires me through her actions and work ethic.

Until I turned 12, I had no hopes, dreams or future. I never imagined myself going to college.

My school in Thailand was built out of bamboo and there were blackboards instead of smartboards. The school didn’t provide buses, lunch or breakfast. Students were hit with bamboo sticks for not completing assignments as small as memorizing a paragraph.

There were few resources, but it was better than my mother’s education experience. My mom couldn’t afford to pay for school because she had to work each day to survive. In addition, there was limited education due to the long civil war between the Karen and Burmese soldiers.

In the summer of 2012, my family moved to the United States from the Thailand refugee camp, and I became Pay Poe. After moving to the U.S., life became difficult again. It was a new country with new people.

When I arrived at my new school, I had no clue why I was there.

Slowly, I looked up at my tall, smiling teacher and followed her into a room full of my new classmates. I could feel all eyes on me. I was the shortest, smallest and loneliest of all. It felt like I had dropped down into a world where I didn’t belong.

Over time, I learned a lot more about the culture. I knew how to ask for help and began to understand the reasons why my mother left everything and moved to America. I used to go to her and say, “I don’t like school because I don’t have any friends.” She would reassure me and say, “Remember, you don’t need friends to go to school, and we moved here because we want you to be educated.”

My mom’s support and hard work motivate me to value my opportunities. I attend school every day. I’m never late for my classes. I stay organized so there aren’t missing or late assignments. I’m grateful and ready to be the first in my family to attend a university.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I am driven by the sacrifices my mom made so that I can achieve my dreams. People can take away our land, our rights, but they can never take away our knowledge.

I work hard because one day I want to check the “College degree” box for my own education and prove that I can overcome challenges and thrive.