Zamzam Hirsi, one of 26 refugee youths who became U.S. citizens at a ceremony Tuesday, had a simple message for her peers.
"One way or another, you have not succeeded all by yourself. Appreciate everyone who has helped you little or big," she said to a crowd of a few dozen people gathered at the Tucson High Magnet School auditorium for an event honoring World Refugee Day.
Hirsi expressed gratitude for her mother, a Somali exile with 11 children, for raising the family as a single parent determined to give her children a better life.
Hirsi, the youngest, was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where her family resettled after leaving war-torn Somalia in the early 1990s.
In Kenya, there was less violence and more opportunities for education, but schooling was expensive, Hirsi said.
The family moved to Tucson in 2005, when Hirsi was 11, and she was determined to make her mother proud by excelling in school.
"She encouraged me to do my best in school because the only thing that makes a difference in your life is education," she said. "If you're well-educated, you are more likely to succeed in life, and my mother said she wanted me to have a better life than she did."
The 18-year-old graduated from Catalina Magnet High School in May and is attending the University of Arizona. She is majoring in political science and hopes to one day work for the United Nations.
There are more than 800 refugee students from 52 countries in Tucson Unified School District schools. Tuesday's event, a precursor to World Refugee Day celebrated June 20, was intended to showcase some of their talents and accomplishments, said Tsuru Bailey-Jones, the district's director of refugee services and Asian Pacific American student services.
We "like to highlight that they're very strong people and they come with gifts and strengths that other people should find out about," Bailey-Jones said.
Barsika Gazmer, 22, a 2011 graduate of Amphitheater High School, chose to perform a Nepalese dance.
Dressed in a two-piece aqua Nepalese dress with gold embellishments and several bangle bracelets on each arm, Gazmer gave an energetic performance to a song about a teenage girl transitioning to adulthood.
Gazmer spent the first 18 years of her life growing up in a refugee camp after her family fled from Bhutan.
Learning English was one of the most challenging parts of her transition, said Gazmer, who practiced by conversing with children while volunteering at a library.
She's now taking classes at Pima Community College and hopes to be a nurse.
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4224.