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Genuine Gold

Fall 2022 Commencement Speaker Realizes Her Full Potential During Her Time at BYU–Hawaii

Cindy Shee standing outside near sign that reads, "Enter to learn go forth to serve."
Photo by Natasha Krisanalome

Since being at Brigham Young University–Hawaii, "My confidence changed a lot because, in Myanmar, I had no confidence because we didn't get treated equally," said Cindy Shee, a senior from Myanmar majoring in social work. In contrast, she added, the environment at BYUH helped grow her confidence.

"My professors are very understanding and supportive," which she said makes her feel like she can share her thoughts without criticism. She added she can now easily talk with strangers, make friends, and ask questions in class. Shee is graduating this semester and will be the graduation speaker.

Finding Her Confidence

Shee explained the education system in Myanmar made it difficult for her to be successful. Outside of school, she said, students with money will pay for private lessons with the teacher. However, Shee said she could not afford these lessons, so she fell behind, and her confidence in her abilities waned.

When she arrived at BYUH, she said she realized it was not her abilities holding her back but her lack of resources. "When I came here, I got all A's. I was so surprised. I talked to my family, and they were so surprised too."

The reason, Shee said, she feels she excels at BYUH is "because here there is no discrimination, and students are treated equally. The professors are very kind and very supportive."

She added the number of resources available, such as free tutoring, helps her and many other students achieve their educational goals.

Shee said she was not confident she would get good grades when she came to BYUH because of her educational experience in Myanmar. "I was so afraid," she said because the language barrier and her timidness made it hard to communicate and understand others. She said she would rarely ask questions in class and said during this time, she felt "alone" and "vulnerable."

However, after a few months in Hawaii, she explained everything was different, as her worry was replaced with the feeling that she was "in a safe space." She added, finding people she could trust and who were supportive helped her feel less lonely, and she realized that along with the resources to support her. "As long as I put in effort, I know that I can do it," said Shee.

Learning English

"Learning has really given me a good opportunity every step of my life. Even after this graduation, I will keep learning too because I find that every time I learn something, I always gain something that I don't even expect," Shee said.

Shee explained she began learning English at a young age because her father continuously searched for learning opportunities he could give them. Since her family did not have access to quality education or many learning materials, Shee recalled her father always paying for a cartoon channel with English translations to help her and her siblings learn.

One day, she said her dad heard of a free English class taught by a native speaker, which was extremely rare. Shee was excited, so she jumped on the opportunity and started attending the lessons taught by two LDS missionaries. "I love learning, especially English," Shee said.

A few months into the classes, Shee visited the Church to get to know the people better and introduced the missionaries to the rest of her family. As they learned from the missionaries, they were converted, and Shee, her sister and their parents were baptized. "I think education is one of the things that also led me to the church," recalled Shee.

After joining the Church, Shee served a mission in Hong Kong, China, where she learned of Brigham Young University–Hawaii.

Cindy Shee standing outside while wearing graduation cap and gown.
Photo by Natasha Krisanalome

How She Got to BYUH

After high school, Shee said she attended a university in Myanmar for about three years but stopped when her family went to Thailand to seek refuge. In the Thailand refugee camp, Shee said she saw people going through various trials as victims of war, struggling in broken families and facing financial and political issues.

Amid the suffering, she said she saw organizations and individuals reaching out to help those around her. Witnessing this, she explained, caused her to reflect on the blessings in her life, such as being able to speak English. She said she utilized her skills to translate for the refugees and, in doing so, saw firsthand how people provided support for those in need. "… This made me think I want to be like them one day. I want to support people who are in need, especially refugees. I want to be like a social worker," Shee said.

Although Shee had a steady and successful job at the time, when the opportunity to come to BYUH arose, she said she could not pass up the chance to receive her degree in social work.

Natasha Krisanalome, a senior from Thailand majoring in communication, said she has always viewed Shee as a strong person. She said they met on the shuttle from the airport to campus on their first day in Hawaii. They sat together and have been friends ever since, she recalled.

Krisanalome said what she noticed the most from Shee is "the blessings in her life that she's received." She continued, “That inspires me because she is a really diligent person, she does everything and she appreciates everything. … Every opportunity that she receives, and she takes it."

Effort in Challenges 

Shee said she has had difficulties, such as stressful classes or financial concerns, every semester. When they arise, she said she has learned to face the challenge and seek help if needed. As she did this, Shee said she was surprised she continued to receive high grades. One of the reasons she said this worked is because she put in the effort.

Shee explained, "Every time I have a problem … I try to put in effort. I feel like if I will try my best, the rest will work out. Even if it doesn't work out, I don't mind because I did it my best."

She said her family and husband also support her through these difficult times. She explained her husband would listen to her talk through her classes, and when she talked to her family, she said, "They always give me courage, and then believe in me and are proud of me."

Krisanalome said of Shee, "She doesn't do things in the minimum effort, but she puts the maximum effort on things … she is always willing to learn, and I always see her get excited and appreciate little things around her."