By Sham Samaroo, Ph.D.
High school graduation symbolizes a seminal moment in a child’ life, and last June, teenager Kristine “Tina” Prashad celebrated that hallowed tradition at the Westchester Square Academy in New York. Graduation can be, and often is, bitter sweet: denoting an end filled with wonderful memories, and a new beginning, gushing with youthful, unbridled enthusiasm.
For Kristine it has been an emotional odyssey from Paramaribo to New York City: A journey of laughter and tears.
Though born in Suriname, kristine’s parents are of Guyanese heritage. In fact, her dad, Ram (Sunny) and I were classmates at St. Mary’s Lutheran school in Belair. Did we play on the same cricket team? What a silly question! Of course we did, and there are so many, wonderful memories from those days. I recall 1966, the year we gained Independence.
Sunny and I were in Standard Two (fifth grade). We proudly sang the national anthem, and enthusiastically waved our small Guyana flags. It was a time of great hope. But those childhood dreams and aspirations were soon shattered. Under the Burnham regime, it became impossible for people to lead a decent life. Green land of Guyana became an arid stench of infamy and oppression, and in 1977 Sunny left for Suriname in search of greener pastures. The night before his departure we had a few, and spoke at length about life, his decision, and the future. It was a bitter-sweet moment for two childhood pals.
In Suriname Sunny met Kristine’s mom, Sharifa, and the two got married in 1994 and were blessed with three sons and a daughter, Kristine. In 2004, the family left Suriname for the United States. Sadly, Sharifa passed away in 2017 when Kristine was in the eighth grade. Asked about life’s challenges, Sunny told me that the most important thing that one can do is to stay positive, and keep forging ahead. “It’s all in the mind, Sham”, he added. In many ways, Kristine reminds me of her mother. Sharifa was a genteel soul who looked for the good in everyone. She always took the high moral ground, and you somehow felt that you were a better person for having met her. She was a stay-at-home mom – not an easy decision for newly arrived immigrants, but one that she and Sunny made. As an educator, I can only applaud that. Sharifa made her home a safe space for her children, Inshan, Jason, Steven, and Kristine. She encouraged them to be independent thinkers, and helped them to grow with love, charity, and compassion. Asked what she remembers best about her mom, Kristine told me that she was both a mother and a friend. “She was so easy to become friends with”, she said.
Being the baby, Kristine was the apple of her mother’s eye, and today, Sharifa is looking down with a smile of great satisfaction, and with gratitude to Sunny for seeing the job through.
Congratulations Kristine. You are walking proudly in the footsteps of your three brothers. You told me that you intend to pursue a degree in business. You are in good company, my dear. In the 70s, your paternal uncle, Baulbeer (Barna) won a Demba scholarship to Canada to study Business Administration. And for you cricket enthusiasts: yes, Barna, Sunny, and I all played on the Belair cricket team in the 70s.
Kristine, today you stand proudly on the threshold of a bright and beautiful future. Come tomorrow, a larger world beckons and a whole new chapter in your life begins. Your duty is to discover your world and then give yourself to it, body and soul, so that America continues to be seen as the last best hope for mankind. As you embark on this lifelong journey, please remember that there is no path to happiness: happiness is the path. And may His divine presence continue to bless your every step.