Born to lead

When she was just 6 years old, Sui Cer (now known as Mercy) fled Burma (now known as Myanmar) with her mom and dad. The large population of Burmese refugees in Lake Highlands was sparser then. Hers was one of the first Burmese families at Wallace Elementary. Early on, language barriers and culture shock stifled Mercy’s naturally bright and outgoing personality. One memory from first grade stands out more than any; the experience shaped her academic future, she says. “It was a spelling test. My teacher called out the words, and everyone started writing things down. I just sat there and turned in a blank page. I got a zero.”

She was mortified, she says. And motivated. She recruited an older family friend to tutor her, and she never again made less than a 100 on a spelling test. In fact, she’s made straight A’s ever since. She will graduate in the top 10 percent of her class, a member of the Mu Alpha
Theta mathematics honor society and the National Honor Society. Among her many accolades has been the Lake Highlands Exchange Club’s Character Counts award, given to students who display strong character traits at school and in the community. Winners are nominated by the LHHS faculty and, according to club officers, are “students who serve as peer role models … and are reliable and trustworthy.”

She is “academically gifted,” according to teacher Rebecca Wood, who also describes her as “kind, intelligent, and driven to succeed.”

1603310065_DannyFulgencio_SuiMercyCer_LHC31Though she was young when she lived in Burma, Mercy recalls enough to know to never take for granted the luxuries of urban America. Things like electricity and clean water were scarce in Myanmar. “When I came here, I did not even know what a toilet was. And laundry. That was one of the most exciting things.” She speaks without a detectible accent. She says that her experiences have been benign compared to those of some other Burmese refugees at school. Her friend Biak (whose story is on p. 22), for example, came in 2010; her journey and acclimation proved much more difficult. “She is the biggest inspiration to me,” Mercy says of Biak. Biak calls Mercy her first and best friend — they share a culture and can talk about any problem. Mercy’s teachers and counselors say she is always supportive, especially to newer Burmese girls who are following in her footsteps.

Today Mercy is on track to become an influential woman abroad as she is at school and home, where she is the oldest of six siblings. “I have to be the one to set an example,” she says.

She emulates the attitude and behavior of her role models including Aung San Suu Kyi, a politician and opposition leader who has fought and suffered for women’s rights in Myanmar. Mercy’s understanding of the struggles of the people in Myanmar, where her grandfather still lives, has inspired her to return, she says, maybe even before she finishes college.

“I don’t want to completely change the way they do things, necessarily,” she says, “but I do want to bring awareness about movements like feminism.”

She served on the student council last year but this year she says she chose to save her money. (Yes, like in real life, it apparently is expensive to run for a high school office). Her interest in politics, while keen, probably won’t translate to a career, she says. She would rather earn a psychology degree and use it to help people. At time of publication she was still contemplating where to attend college after being accepted to multiple universities and garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Read more about the Class of 2016