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Midelyn Kassahn was given up for adoption at age 10 so that she could have a better life in America

SETH GORDON - Midelyn Kassahn walked with the hundreds of other graduates during commencement ceremonies held June 8 at Newberg High School. The Haitian native was given up for adoption at age 10 by her mother in order for her to have a better life in the United States.

Walking across the stage to receive a Newberg High School diploma earlier this month signified more than the completion of a four or even 13-year journey for Midelyne Kassahn.

Having been adopted from Haiti in 2010, Kassahn has come much farther and cleared more obstacles along the way than most high school graduates.

But most importantly, Midelyne's graduation was the realization of someone else's dream for her, because to have that kind of education at all was the reason her birth mother gave her up for adoption in the first place. The type of life Midelyne continues to build for herself is the reward for her birth mother's sacrifice, but also the product of a unique partnership with her adoptive mother, Virginia Lee.

"I'm just incredibly proud of the young woman that she is," Lee said.

Kassahn's birth mother worked at an orphanage in Haiti, where she saw firsthand how other children were given a chance at a better life when they were adopted by parents in countries like the United States, England and France.

That didn't mean that Kassahn, as a 10-year old, understood or was happy about it at the time, especially when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. The missionaries from Pittsburgh that ran the orphanage had to quickly arrange, with the help of a judge and others, for Kassahn and more than 20 other children to be flown out of Haiti a week later and have their adoptions finalized.

"I didn't want to go at first because the earthquake just rushed things but also made us take a pause," Kassahn said. "I was screaming that I didn't want to go at the beginning."

It took Kassahn a long time to open up and feel comfortable in her new family and even longer to learn English well enough to be independent academically and fully engaged socially -- basically to feel like herself again.

That process finally began while at Chehalem Valley Middle School, where Kassahn had teacher Heidi King for all three years.

"I just love her so much for her attitude in life," King said. "She's so sweet and kind to everyone around her. She takes life serious enough to get all of her things done to be a productive member of society, but she doesn't take it so seriously that she feels she's a victim of anything."

Now on her way to Portland Community College as the first step toward building a career that involves working with children, Kassahn better understands the choice her mother made. She regularly communicates with her and other family members in Haiti online and also returned there a couple of weeks when she was 14.

"She wanted something better than what we have in Haiti and I get that now," Kassahn said. "It took a while for me to get there, but I now understand."

Lee tried to arrange for Kassahn's birth mother and favorite brother to come to Newberg for graduation, but by the time they got their travel visas approved, they had missed their flight. Now she is working to send Kassahn and a friend to Haiti instead.

"It wasn't what I had hoped, but it was still a fun day," Kassahn said. "I still graduated."

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