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At Bishop Brady, a portrait in resilience

For most high school seniors, classes and schoolwork are a cumbersome burden they would be glad to be rid of.

But for Simbi Ntahobari, her education at Bishop Brady High School has been a haven that has kept her moving forward through a trying time in her life.

“If anything, I feel like school is the only thing that has made me emotionally not unravel,” said Ntahobari, 18. “I can focus on my schoolwork and classes and what I want to do with my life.”

Ntahobari is one of three daughters of Beatrice Munyenyezi, the Manchester woman convicted in February of lying on immigration forms about her role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

After her mother was first arrested in the spring of 2010, Ntahobari and her two sisters have shuffled between living with their uncle, a guardian and their mother after she was released when her first trial ended in a mistrial in March 2012.

But since her February conviction, Munyenyezi has been awaiting sentencing at the Strafford County Jail, leaving her daughters, all of whom are at least 18, largely alone.

“At times I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I could worry about things like prom and graduation,’ ” Ntahobari said. “Instead I have to worry about where I’m going to live, how I’m going to get food and health insurance.”

In spite of her hardships, Ntahobari graduated from Bishop Brady yesterday evening with a smile just as wide as those of her 93 fellow graduates.

Fr. John Fortin, superintendent of Catholic schools, noted the joyous faces of not only the graduates but also of those in the audience as he imparted one key piece of advice.

“You are surrounded by parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters and all kinds of people who, from my standpoint, are just beaming with pride,” Fortin said. “This is a great time to ask for money.”

Class valedictorian Emma Nelson refrained from giving advice to her classmates, since “grades do not equate life experience.” Instead, Nelson reminded herself and the other seniors that graduation is a day for saying thank you to friends, teachers and families.

But Nelson cautioned her classmates against forgetting to thank one integral person, without whom graduation day would not be possible: themselves.

“Next year, we forge our own paths . . . without the community we have come to depend on the last four years, but remember you earned this diploma first and foremost by yourself,” Nelson said. “You guided yourself here today, and no one is more qualified to guide you through the next stage of life.”

Salutatorian Tim Garrett reminded the class of their humble beginnings as a class of 70 students when they began at Bishop Brady in August 2009.

“We forged close relationships that persisted over the years, even as our class has grown into the largest in the school, 94 strong,” he said.

Those tight bonds empowered members of the class to push each other out of their comfort zones during their time at Brady, Garrett said, which is why he knows they will find success during the next four years of their lives as well.

As one of those students who joined Bishop Brady’s Class of 2013 more recently, Ntahobari can attest to its supportive environment. She transferred to the school in August 2011 and had several of its teachers and advisers regularly check in with her and express concern for her well-being.

Other teachers supported Ntahobari by pushing her to her limits academically, she said. She credits her world history teacher with being a key reason she was accepted into a summer program at Brown University, where she took two courses in summer 2012.

Although she initially wanted to study biochemistry, Ntahobari now plans to become a humanitarian lawyer as a direct result of her mother’s trial. In the fall, she will attend American Univeristy in Washington, D.C., where she plans to double major in international studies and economics.

Concentrating on the future effect she can have in this field enables Ntahobari to deal with her family struggles, she said.

“I think about it and say right now I can’t change anything, but in the future I probably can, if I remain focused,” she said.

Principal Trevor Bonat said Ntahobari’s intense drive sets her apart from many of the other students he has come into contact with.

“There are few young women who have such a brightness in them and a focus on who they are and what they want to do with their lives and for the world more than Simbi,” Bonat said. “She has persevered through a very challenging time and is an old soul as a result of it.”

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the class valedictorian's name. Her name is Emma Nelson.

Our Class Valedictorian is Ms. Emma Nelson, not Emma Wilson as the story incorrectly names. Congratulations so the Class of 2013! Lonna J. Abbott Bishop Brady High School Director of Admissions and Enrollment

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