Yuhan Jiang didn’t know much English when she moved to Las Vegas from China during her sophomore year and had a lot of catching up to do. Two years later, she received an advanced diploma and was honored as Desert Oasis High School’s star graduate on Tuesday.
Jiang, now 18, and her father moved in with her stepmother, Tingting Huang, who was born in China, moved to New York for high school and attended UNLV, then stayed in the valley.
Jiang took summer school for two years to catch up. She said grades were too poor to transfer for credit to the Clark County School District.
“My parents had already made plans for me to move here, so after I found out, I thought, ‘I am already going to move to America, so I don’t need to focus on my studying in China,’” Jiang said.
She often skipped classes to hang out with friends, she said.
“The first semester as a sophomore, I got three Cs,” Jiang said of her arrival at Desert Oasis. “I know how to speak English, but I am not always comfortable, so in my first year all of my friends were Chinese or (Asian American) because it was easier for me to communicate with them.”
Jiang didn’t mind online summer school but said she had problems in the classroom, both with learning and with making friends.
Jiang started getting help from her teachers after school. By her senior year, she no longer had to take English-language-learner classes and was enrolled in honors math and two Advanced Placement classes. She graduated with an advanced diploma, for students who meet course requirments and have a GPA of 3.25 or higher. Students who get an advanced diploma also must take the ACT.
Early in her time in Las Vegas, she said, she would come home from school every day and her family would ask if she had made friends. Her sad reply: “No.”
That changed; she later was part of the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate club at Desert Oasis and DECA, a nonprofit organization that prepares students for careers through classroom instruction and community and business outreach. Students in DECA, formerly known as Distributive Education Clubs of America, also participate in national and regional competitions.
Jiang plans to attend the University of Utah as a pre-pharmacy major. She said she may decide to transfer to Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson.
Desert Oasis principal Kelly O’Rourke said that for students who are not native English speakers, trying to assimilate into a new culture and a different way of teaching academic subjects is tough. That said, “what makes (Jiang) stand out is not necessarily the challenge of being from a different country; it is her tenacity to succeed and graduate on time and truly be prepared for her next adult steps outside of high school.”
About star graduates
Each high school in the Clark County School District selects one student as a star graduate, said district spokesman Mauricio Marin.
“The student selected from each school may have overcome a significant obstacle to reach their goal of high school graduation or be the class valedictorian,” he said.
To view a list of this year’s star graduates, visit ccsd.net/students/star-graduates.