Diocesan News

St. Francis College Valedictorian’s ‘Refugee’ Story

Nermina Markisic will be applying for a job at the Bosnian consulate to give back to her parents home country. “I know my people are still suffering,” she says. (Photo: Jazmin Rosa)

By Jazmin Rosa

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The road Nermina Markisic took to get to the graduation ceremony for St. Francis College, Winter Class of 2020, at St. James Cathedral in Downtown Brooklyn, was an unlikely, if not inspiring, one.

Markisic was the valedictorian of the class, but perhaps more remarkably, she is the daughter of refugees from Bosnia, who came to the United States in 1995 to escape their war-torn country.

“My family had to leave everything behind,” Markisic said. “My father came here with my mother, my sister, who was only a few months old, my grandmother, who was ill and had a broken leg at the time, and my uncle, who went blind during the war. We didn’t have a dollar to our name.”

Her family emigrated to Borough Park from Bosnia, where a war began in 1992 after Bosnia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. During the war, Bosnian-Serb forces, with the backing of the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavian army, targeted Bosnian Muslims and Croatian civilians to perpetrate ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Markisic’s mother was 29 when she fled from Bosnia, her father, 32. They came to the United States with her older sister, uncle and grandmother. Upon arriving in Brooklyn, Markisic’s mother found work as a maid at a Holiday Inn, and her father worked as an electrician.

“Just like Bosnia, we came out on the other side: undefeated. And here I am today, graduating from St. Francis College as the valedictorian of the class of 2020. I think this is what people like to call the ‘American Dream,’” Markisic said during her valedictorian address.

Markisic was born in 1998 and raised in Brooklyn. She attended Franklin D. Roosevelt H.S. in the Mapleton section of Brooklyn, where she stood out as a star student.

“Nermina was an incredible student, Theodore Timmons, Markisic’s high school guidance counselor, who attended the St. Francis College graduation ceremony, said.

“She worked in a special program helping graduates with their financial aid in the summer,” Markisic said. “She came back and worked in the fall term, too, making sure their applications were filled out correctly… She is just a great person. Immigrants are the backbone of this country, and considering what her family went through in Bosnia, this was the best of all possible outcomes.”

Markisic received a scholarship to attend St. Francis College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in international affairs.

She was the president of the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society, and a mem-ber of the Political Science Honor Society and the St. Thomas More Pre-Law Society. She completed her degree in three and a half years, making her eligible for the early commencement.

She plans to pursue a graduate degree with a focus in international law, with the intention of giving back to Bosnia.

“My next step will be applying for a job at the Bosnian consulate,” she said. “This is important to me because I know my people are still suffering.”

Through tears, Markisic closed her valedictorian speech with a heartfelt thank you to her parents for working hard to provide her and her sister with a better life, and she reaffirmed the virtue of hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“You must trust that things will be okay as long as you work hard to make them okay,” Markisic said. “I want to show people by my example that anything is possible, and like I said before, if you feel like you cannot go on for yourself, then go on for the people you love. That is what I do every day.”

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