On the first day of school, I sat down in eighth-period government class. Because government is a staple in a high school seniors' curriculum, some of my new classmates were kids I hadn't seen since eighth grade. As I surveyed the room, I got an amazing surprise – amid the chaos and noise, I recognized someone, a friend that I had been missing for five years.
After class, we approached one another, overjoyed. As we talked, we remembered stories from middle school and agreed to meet that weekend in town. Soon we were talking about everything, and I was listening to her tell me about her life and her dreams.
Sitting on a park bench during a sunny afternoon, she began to tell me her story.
Her name is Kinga Domokos and she is from Romania. Today, she is an American. She is 17, loves pop music from the '80s, Latin music, reggae and rock 'n' roll. She loves children and animals and she is a dancer and singer. She loves Michael Jackson, Selena Quintanilla, Elvis and James Brown.
"I am very different," she says in perfect English, with a hint of a beautiful accent that rolls her R's and accents her A's. "But if we were all the same, how would we evolve?"
I met Kinga in seventh grade. I was an excited and nervous student, who was called down to the office on the first day of the new school year. Kinga and I were introduced, and it was my job to show her around and get her accustomed to her new school. Kinga and I fit together perfectly– an American girl firmly rooted in Springville who desperately wanted to see the world and a well-traveled Romanian girl who needed to learn about a new country.
I taught her new English words, she taught me Romanian ones. I showed her how to organize a portfolio, she taught me how to dance. Seventh grade was extraordinary.
As high school began, though, we had become separated. Before we knew it, exactly five years from the day that we had first met, we resumed our friendship as if nothing had happened.
"When I heard I was coming here to America," Kinga began, "I thought ‘Wow'. When I first entered class, I was so scared. I thought I'd be bullied because I'm from a different place, but the people here were so nice. I still felt uneasy, but I was trying to be positive. When I was a child in Romania, I kind of lived in fear. I've changed since then.
"At first," she said, "I was so sad. I missed my family. But today, I feel like this is my home, not Romania. I was born there, but it was my fate to come here. When people meet me now, I want them to know me, not my background. I couldn't live in Romania right now because of how different I have become. When I go back, they're like, ‘you're an American now?!' and I'm like ‘Yes! Why not?'
"Since I was 5," Kinga said, "I have had this dream to be a performer. I am someone else when I dance, and on the stage, I feel confident. The music guides me. I want to perform not because I want to be famous but because I want to spread love, justice and peace."
For the next few hours, Kinga talked about her hopes for equality and justice in the world.
"Why do we have wars?" she asks. "We are all equal, black and white. Life is so interesting if you think about it. It's magic, really.
"I want to make my dream come true, and I think I'm brave enough to do it. I don't want to let myself be scared of the world. I want people to know this: Even if you're afraid, if you love something, you should never give up."
In seventh grade, I had showed Kinga how to be a student and what is was like to live in America. Today, she is teaching me what it means to believe, to have confidence in our country and to hope for equality and justice.