American Samoa native finds opportunity right here


The Mirror

Desmond Vaeao is graduating from high school far from home.

The native of American Samoa will receive his diploma from Decatur High School on Wednesday with a good portion of his family watching.

They might get the “traveled-the-farthest” award as most are flying in from American Samoa — it’s about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.

He came to Federal Way in 1996 to live with an aunt and uncle. His parents wanted him to have the chance for a better opportunity than he would have in American Samoa.

The options are limited in that country, Vaeao said, and the school system isn’t as good. One avenue many people take to get off the islands is joining the United States military.

“There’s really nothing there,” he said.

Vaeao went to school in Federal Way for four years before he went back to American Samoa for two years. When he left his homeland, he primarily spoke Samoan.

He could speak English, but many of the grammar concepts, reading and writing were harder to understand.

But after four years in the United States, he has sharpened his language skills. However, he speaks Samoan to the uncle he lives with in Federal Way.

He is a member of the school’s Pacific Islander Club, serving as this year’s vice president. Having other Pacific Islanders to connect with made it easier for him to be so far from home.

There are around 240 Pacific Island students in Federal Way Public Schools — or a little more than 1 percent of the student population.

In high schools, there are 84 students.

A lot of the Pacific Island students have the same story as Vaeao, he said. They have come to the United States because of the opportunities.

If you learn how to make money in the U.S., you take that knowledge home to American Samao and do well for yourself, he said.

Getting a high school diploma is one of the goals of life, he said.

And part of the opportunity.

A football player at Decatur, Vaeao plans to attend Highline Community College and transfer to West Valley College in California to play ball. Eventually, he would like to move to a larger school. He wants to study in a field that will allow him to work with children.

Despite the distance, not seeing his parents except during the holidays and losing his father, Vaeao is excited to graduate.

“I can’t wait,” he said, echoing the sentiments of all seniors.

The one downside of graduation is his mother can’t attend because the school in American Samoa where she teaches second grade is still in session.

Still, the family will have a large party tonight, Desmond Vaeao said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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