June 20th is World Refugee Day and this year the International Rescue Committee in Missoula is recognizing one refugee who is the first person in his family to graduate from High School in the United States.
Janvier Munyazikwiye’s cousins waited for him in his front yard a couple of weeks ago on a bright, sunny morning. Janvier was returning from Hellgate High School’s socially distant graduation ceremony that had taken place at the University of Montana stadium. His cousins played and posed for pictures in front of yard signs from Willard and Hellgate schools announcing a graduate lived there. Janvier is the first person in his family to graduate in the US and the whole extended family was excited for him. His mother, sister and aunt cooked all day to prepare and friends gathered outside to celebrate with balloons, music, soccer and a barbecue.
When Janvier arrived his cousins and friends rushed to congratulate him and after a while he was persuaded to put on his cap and gown and pose for pictures. Soon the cap was tossed in the air and everyone took turns trying it on. This day is still a few years away for his younger cousins but it was clear the they are already looking forward to celebrating their own graduations and Janvier has shown them all it can be done.
This was a day that was hard to imagine just two years ago when Janvier arrived with his family from Uganda. They are refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and had spent over a decade in a refugee camp there. Arriving in the spring of 2018 with no previous high school credits Janvier jumped into life in Missoula with both feet. Janvier is friendly and outgoing so he was able to pick up English relatively quickly, getting a head start on the soccer field the summer before his first year at Hellgate High School. After turning 19 he enrolled at Willard Alternative High School and was able to complete all the required coursework and graduate this spring, all while working full time to help support his family. Towards the end of his final semester he added another full time job to his already packed schedule to make up for work lost in the early months of the Covid 19 pandemic. At the same time he finished all his online classes and graduated on time.
For now Janvier plans to continue working both jobs and squeezing soccer in where he can. He has earned a break before thinking about his future and where life might take him next.
Congratulations to Janvier and the class of 2020! Thanks for being a role model for other refugee youth in Missoula and paving the way for future graduates. We are so proud of you.