NEW MADRID - When Marie Tinio walked across the stage Tuesday night to accept her diploma the same thing went through her mind as so many other high school graduates: "I made it!"
Then her mind went back to the others who made it possible, in particular her grandmother. It was her grandmother who cared for her in the Philippines while her mother, Felicitas Raquel, traveled to the United States to become a teacher at Immaculate Conception Grade School in New Madrid.
Then with her grandmother's encouragement, Tinio left her behind to begin her high school studies in the United States.
Tinio and her mother came from Cainta, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. While it wasn't easy leaving their country behind, Raquel explained she knew it would be best for them.
"The Philippines has a very good education, but they don't have enough employment," said Raquel. "I knew Marie would graduate but then what kind of future would she have?"
So the single mother made the move to the United States, finding a job with the small Catholic school in New Madrid. After two years, her daughter joined her. "I though this was the best opportunity I could give her - a better opportunity in the United States," said Raquel.
Sometimes it takes a while to discover that things are better, recalled the mother and daughter. Leaving friends and family wasn't easy for the then 14-year-old.
"It was very hard for her the first few months. She felt very isolated and sometimes she blamed me. But as she made new friends and she adjusted, she has emerged just like a beautiful butterfly," said the mother with a broad smile and eyes filled with pride.
Tinio agreed, there were some rough moments, including the death of her grandmother. She has discovered many things she likes about her new country.
The people in small towns, like New Madrid, are more likely to smile, she said, even if they don't know you.
The schools, she continued, are different too.
While she attended Catholic school growing up in the Philippines she made the transition to public school in the United States. She described her classes in the Philippines as regimented and noted many times there were as many as 50 or 60 students per class.
"There was less interaction. Here, if you want to know something about a lesson, you can approach a teacher and ask questions," she explained.
She admitted she didn't try as hard in her classes before coming to the U.S., but noted she still earned Bs and Cs. In the U.S. her grades have improved and when she graduated from New Madrid County Central High School Tuesday evening, Tinio ranked 30th out of her class of 124.
This summer she will continue working at a local nursing home with plans to attend Three Rivers Community College next fall. Tinio would like to earn a degree in nursing.
She credits Renee Smith, who taught a class introducing students to the nursing field, with interesting her in the career and more. "She didn't only teach the basics of nursing, but also about life and what to expect," explained Tinio. She added that if she had stayed in the Philippines, while she might already be out of school, she probably would not be as focused yet on a career.
Now Tinio, like so many other high school graduates, said she is looking forward to "getting out in the real world" but still thinks about the past and how she came to the United States.
"I have a lot of really good memories from here but graduation should be the best," she said anticipating the ceremony.
"My mom's going to be so proud of me," she said, then pausing and getting a bit teary-eyed added: "I just wish my Grandma would be here to see it."