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Burmese Refugee Graduates Utah High School

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A group of 15 refugees has celebrated a rite of passage for teens across the United States: high school graduation.

For Burmese refugee Shaker Shahalam, receiving a high school diploma was something he has always wanted to accomplish.

The 17-year-old was forced out of his home country of Burma for being Muslim. He was separated from his family and has not seen his mother in 12 years.

“The government killed my people, so I ran away from my country,” he said. “I go to different countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia.”

Shahalam has gone from refugee camp to camp before arriving in Utah – without his family – nearly three years ago.

He was one of 95 children in the Catholic Community Services’ Unaccompanied Refugee Minor foster care program in Utah. Shahalam credited the program for helping him graduate from high school in May.

Without his family to help take care of his needs, he said education is important to him.

“I go to school in every country,” he said.

Friday night, CCS celebrated Shahalam and 14 other graduates with a special event in Salt Lake City.

“To come that far and reach this point of graduation, that’s really a big deal for him,” said Kyle Mortensen, Shahalam’s case manager. “We have helped him schooling, to work, to trainings, to learning English and pretty much anything he needs help with.”

Shahalam said he wanted to continue his education and apply for college, become a US citizen and get a good paying job.

“So I can make money and go back to my country and visit to see my family,” he said.

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