When Tho Paw started school in Kennewick, she was scared and overwhelmed.
"Everything was different," she recalled. "It was like, 'What am I doing?'"
What she was doing was starting over.
Paw, now 18, who just graduated from Kennewick High School, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.
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She was 8 when she came to the Tri-Cities and started taking classes at Westgate Elementary.
She didn't speak English. She didn't know the other kids.
She felt nervous and embarrassed.
But the staff at Westgate made her feel welcome. And before long, she began to shine.
Paw's perseverance and her sweet, sunny nature have won her many admirers.
"She’s a great kid," said Desiree Martinez, assistant principal at Kennewick High. "She’s happy here, she’s a happy student. We’re very proud of her."
Paw and her family are Karen, an ethic group swept up for decades in violent civil conflict in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Like many Karen people, Paw's parents, Baylay and Kugay, fled to Thailand.
In the refugee camp where Paw was born, there was no electricity or running water. Paw had never slept in a bed or ridden in a car.
She's settled into a fulfilling life in Kennewick.
At Kennewick High, "I have a lot of friends. That's why I like it here," Paw told the Herald. "The teachers are really fun. They like teaching. I learn a lot from them."
Paw also completed the early childhood education program at Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick — even returning to Westgate Elementary as an intern.
She helped out in a first-grade classroom.
That helped inspire a big life decision: she wants to become a teacher.
Paw plans to attend Washington State University Tri-Cities and study education.
"When kids learn something new, they’re like, 'Wow, cool!" Paw said. "When I was young and learned something new, I felt smart. I want to make kids feel smart."
When Paw thinks about how far she's come — from a scared little girl starting over, to a confident young high school graduate poised to help other kids — she feels proud.
"I think it’s because of the people around me, that’s why (I’ve succeeded). And maybe my attitude," she said. "I do feel proud of myself."