ALBANY, NY – Today, on Flag Day, it is with great pride that we raise our flag in celebration with Saw Pre Pre Tawng (Pre) ’20, Healthcare Management student at Maria College, as he is sworn in to become a citizen of the United States of America. For many, the journey to freedom is long and full of tremendous obstacles, but the hope for opportunity is their driving force.
From Karen decent, Pre spent his early childhood years in Burma. His family fled for safety to Malaysia when he was 14 years old with a large group of Karen refugees. After a year of assimilating into this new culture, Pre’s parents decided to send him to a refugee school where he would have the chance to learn English—even though it was the only course taught one day a week. Pre shared he often felt unsafe and anxious because local police did not treat the refugee population well. At age 17, Pre, along with his family, moved to Albany after their paperwork came through to be transferred to the United States.
Upon arrival, Pre was enrolled at Albany High School in the 11th grade with no previous formal education. He said, “For the first year, I just sat and listened, trying to learn the language and understand the material…I would spend every day after school, trying to catch up on subjects that were most challenging, like History.” Pre expressed that without the help of his teachers he would have never walked the stage to graduate 3 years later.
After graduating high school, Pre attended a local community college but had to drop out after one semester to help support his family during a difficult time. In the Fall of 2016, Pre started at Maria College after being recommended for the program because of the small class sizes and personal attention. Pre began his studies in the Liberal Arts program and later switched to Healthcare Management after taking a few classes that peaked his interest. He shared that Maria is a good fit for him because he is able to ask questions during class and access the professors for additional assistance outside the classroom.
With the encouragement from his father, Pre has studied two long years for the citizenship exam. As the first of his family to become a U.S. citizen Pre shared that he is most excited to have an ‘official’ ID because that will mean that he belongs. Pre said, “I am so grateful to become a citizen, and I want to give back.”
Today, we wave our flag high, in gratitude for opportunity—for education, for a future, for students like Pre who find a place where they belong on Maria’s campus and in our country.
“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” -Lee Greenwood