I still remember my first day at the charter school. It was the first time that I could go to school in jeans, and a T-shirt. I barely spoke to anyone my first year. I was not shy or anything, but I only knew about ten words in English. Coming from a different culture, I felt like my life had started over. Everything was brand new, including experiences. Coming from a poor part of Thailand, I now had cereal for breakfast every morning, and lasagna had become my favorite food.

Changing is not an easy thing to do, but we do it all the time. What we do every morning: changing clothes, changing paths. The future is unpredictable. I didn’t know that I was coming here 10 years ago. Anything could happen so just be prepared. You might win a lottery.

The charter school has taught me so many things. Pam helped me every step of the way. Nicole came in every day my first year to teach me English. Learning a new language is not easy, and studying U.S. history in English is even harder.

All the teachers in this school supported me and taught me to be an independent learner. They gave me options to choose what I wanted to learn. In my sophomore year, I decided to make a guitar. I was 16 and didn’t know anything about the process of making a guitar. I just wanted to make a guitar. The charter school found me people who could help me. My point is everything you want to do, this school will help you. Of course, you have to be productive. You need to show them how hard you’re willing to do it and they will not hesitate to help you. All the kids coming back next year should take advantage of that while you still can.

One of the things that surprised me the most here at the charter school was how much I wanted to learn. Although, most stuff that I’m interested in doesn’t get me a perfect score on the SAT, I feel I am more prepared to leave here to pursue the things I love to do.

Confucius once said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” I already took my first step, and that step is graduating from the charter school and I thank all of you who were involved with that.

I want to thank Daniel for his patience, understanding and guidance.

And finally, I would like to thank my mom. Daniel gave me an excerpt from one of her immigration letters and I would like to share it with you.

“I cannot believe my son is here with me now. It’s been six very hard and long years not seeing him grow up. My son is in school now and he loves being here. I can make a living here in United States and that makes me feel good. I do love this country very much. But sometimes when I look at my son sleeping I wonder if it was worth it. Yes, he is here with me now, but what price did he pay. The long time he waited to be with his mom at an age when he needed me the most. Yes, I am happy to be here, and there are no words to describe how I feel to have my son here with me. I can only hope that someday he will forgive me for leaving him and understand that it was the most painful thing I could have ever done in the hope of giving him the opportunities that only this country can give to him.”

In translation I said:

Mom, I have no words to tell you how much I love you. And yes, I forgive you.

Thank you.

Nantawat Earth Laothong’s speech was delivered Sunday at commencement ceremonies for the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.