When life gets tough for Thay Wah, a senior at Emmett J. Conrad High School, she relies on the two things she knows best: her passion for learning and the love she has for her family.
Her journey has been filled with ups and downs as she moved from Thailand to the U.S. at age 10, took on the daunting task of learning English in middle school and persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that she is ready to walk the graduation stage, she is looking ahead to how she will continue to grow at the University of Texas at Austin.
“What is most important to me is when I learn new things that I’m really interested in,” Thay said. “After you start learning something and you know how to do it, you can do it on your own. That’s the exciting part.”
That learning mentality served her well when she arrived in Dallas and entered middle school. At the time, Thay and her parents spoke no English, but Thay was determined to succeed and began picking up new skills “little by little.” By seventh grade, she was speaking English as her teachers continued to help her with writing and reading; by ninth grade, she was ready to spread her wings.
“Going to Conrad was so exciting,” she said. “I learned new things and I met new people, and looked forward to more classes coming up, especially reading and math. I was really focused. I wanted to pass all my classes, and I wanted to focus on school, so I was doing everything I could to succeed.”
Then the pandemic began, and Thay experienced a car accident, among other family concerns. She ended up with several absences, which she had to make up for in her senior year, yet she still found the drive and passion to get involved in Conrad’s culinary arts program and compete among her peers.
One of her favorite things about culinary arts is trying out recipes from other cultures and discovering what they taste like. Thay hopes to travel more in the future, and cooking gives her a way to do that from the comfort of her own home—and classroom.
She has only been in Conrad’s culinary arts program since last year, but she is no stranger to putting meals together. As the oldest of three children, she has stepped up countless times to help her parents. Whether she is helping them cook or clean, watching over her younger sisters or assisting with bill payments in English on her parents’ behalf, she values showing up for her family every day.
“In Thailand, they teach kids to respect their elders, their parents and other people. If your elder asks you to do something, you do it. Then you go back home and help your parents next, and you take care of your siblings,” she said. “I want to be a good daughter to my parents, and I want to be more responsible like them because they work so hard for us.”
Thay is looking forward to her next chapter at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall. While she is still deciding what to study, she dreams of becoming a flight attendant one day. Until then, she is determined to keep learning and making her family proud.