We have just finished what we call in education “The Six Week War”: the stretch between February and April Break during which we encounter Mud Season, Midterms, and March Madness (the cabin fever kind, not the college basketball kind). During this stretch, students can become stressed by schoolwork, tired out and tired of winter, and downright squirrely—and so can their teachers. It was impressive to me, therefore, when one of our students, View Chintaviwatwong, delivered a Chapel Talk that reminded us of how we make it through the hard times. He spoke with passion about his relationship with one of his teachers, Dr. John Bouaketh Sayarath, about how his example inspires him, and how much we all need examples like this one.
View’s talk highlights what makes for a great school, what makes the Academy a great school—relationships, especially those between teachers and students, and a community that appreciates the gifts of those around them. We celebrate these every time we hold an alumni event, every time we hold a Parents Night, and every time we gather as classes, advisories, or teams. I can’t express this sentiment any better than View did, so I offer his talk here unedited. He received a resounding standing ovation when he finished, and I hope his words resonate with you as well.
Everyday Hero Essay
By View Chintaviwatwong
I remember one day last fall, when I was walking with a few friends down Eastern Avenue. An Academy school bus stopped in the middle of the street and a man asked, “Guys, do you need a ride?” He looked at us with a big smile on his face. That day wasn’t the only time I received some kind of random generosity from him. I’m certain that many of us in this hall have had similar experiences with his generosity, and for this public speaking class I was asked to write about a person who is considered an everyday hero. As a senior who is about to leave high school, there are many people for whom I am thankful and consider role models. But, there is one person who stands out from the rest. From the outside, he may appear to be a very kind and modest person, but from the inside I have learned that his past speaks of hardship and grit. The person whom I consider to be my everyday hero is Doctor Bouaketh Sayarath.
Over the course of the four years I have gotten to know Doctor, I have managed to put together the puzzle pieces of his life. How did this Laotian find himself in America? As far as I have learned from my conversations with him, there were four major milestones in his life journey that brought him here: his exit from his native country, Laos, his near capture as a refugee in Thailand, his life changing relationship with an American doctor, and his struggle to gain a degree from Harvard University.
I think it’s important for us as a community to understand what he overcame to get here.
Dr. Sayarath’s early life was often “on the run.” When he was very young, his father died during the Vietnam War, a war that tore Laos apart and left it unstable. As a result, Doctor fled the country, parting from his family, for a better life at the age of 12. He was alone and sad, crossing the border into Thailand; it meant embarking on a boat and leaving his friends and family far behind. On the boat, he remembers looking back to one of his friends who stood on the shore, unable to join him. He couldn’t hold back his tears.
While in this new country, Thailand, Doctor had hoped to find a former teacher whom he knew was teaching at a university there. One day on this journey, he came close to being captured by Thai soldiers who were chasing after refugees just like him. He once told me, “If I had spoken even a word, they would have discovered that I was a refugee. I was lucky.” With time, he found Dr. Levee, his former teacher. Doctor Levee acted like a second father to Doctor Sayarath; he took care of him and put him into a school. He gave Doctor Sayarath a sense of home. But this new grounding came to a sudden halt when Doctor Levee collapsed from a heart attack and had to be transported to America. Doctor Sayarath boarded that trip to America with Doctor Levee. And once again, his life felt “on the run.” He was now on the other side of the world, that much further away from his beloved country. To make matters even worse, tragedy awaited Doctor Sayarath with the death of Doctor Levee shortly after their arrival. Living in a foreign land at this incredibly sorrowful time with no mentor drove home the fact that he was alone again. But this time, Doctor held his ground and turned those feelings into a force that allowed him to pursue the finest education at Harvard University. During his studies at Harvard, Doctor confronted numerous difficulties all around him, but mostly he felt dispirited by the fact that all of his colleagues were excelling in classes in which he had a hard time. He told me, “It was like I was holding onto a cliff with my finger nails.” But, there was one force that drove him out of the hopeless abyss, and that was his strong determination to pursue his life’s purpose; to offer hope to the people in his village hill tribe. He wanted to prove to his people that if he could become a medical doctor, any one of them could do so as well. Doctor had no choice but to face the difficulty, and he later overcame it with his extraordinary will to gain a degree from Harvard University.
As I said before, it would take me hours to take you through his entire life story, but looking out into my future, I can picture myself facing numerous challenges and adversities. But when I think about Doctor’s stories, they leave me with a life-changing perspective: to remain hopeful in the face of difficulty.
Everyone needs to have a Doctor Sayarath in his or her life because in times of struggle we need a reminder that one person has experienced worse hardships than we have and managed to overcome them. I, too, have had my own challenges: being at the bottom of the class, struggling with getting into a college, not always making my parents proud, and working twice as hard as my classmates but only getting half as much out of it. I, myself, have wanted to give up. I have felt deeply miserable. But as I look to Doctor Sayarath’s stories, I’m reminded of something. Overcoming hardship takes a solid grit, and that grit does not just fall out of the sky. Grit is something we must build, and stories like Doctor’s are good motivation, especially for me. His actions prove to me that if he could overcome sadness, loneliness, separation and disadvantage then I can too. I, too, can persevere in the face of conflict and not give up.
I would like to express my deepest appreciation to you, Doctor Sayarath for helping me throughout my four years. I admire your hard work and your leap of faith. I admire your aspiration to help your own people and I admire your determination to endure. Your stories have had an astounding impact on my life.
I encourage all of you in this hall to find your own Doctor Sayarath, a person who can inspire you in times self-doubt, a person who can inspire your own sense of promise in the world.