Manee Vongphakdy was only five months old when her family left Thailand and came to the United States as refugees. Her family was one of the first Hmong families in the Wausau.
"Growing up could be hard at times because it was very new for the community to be around, you know, all the Hmong people and just learning to accept us and our differences," Vongphakdy told NewsChannel 7.
For Vongphakdy, things were particularly rough when it came to school.
"My parents didn't go on to college and they didn't even go through school really," Vongphakdy explained. "So they didn't know how to help me with my homework or how to help me balance my classes and all the pressures that I felt at school."
Luckily, Vongphakdy's teachers and counselor at Wausau West did. With their help, Vongphakdy graduated high school and went on to college. After receiving her undergraduate degree from UW-Stevens Point, Vongphakdy went on to UW-Stout for her graduate degree in school counseling. Now she's back in Wausau working as a counselor at Wausau East High School and reaching out to students just like her.
"About 40 percent of my students are Hmong and I embrace this because I want to be that role model for them," Vongphakdy shared.
But her mission doesn't end with Hmong students. She wants to reach all students.
"She like goes out of her way to really like help you as a student. Like I see her in the hallway and I'll say 'Hi Mrs. Vongphadky,' and she right away recognize me and she'll bring up a conversation," advisee and Wausau East Junior Emmett Stifler said of Vongphakdy.
Whether you're a Warrior or a Lumberjack, Vongphakdy's advice applies to us all, "Don't ever give up. I'm living proof that if you work hard enough you can achieve your dreams."
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