Top of Class: Bosnian Refugee Named St. Francis College Valedictorian

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By Emily Drooby

As Nermina Markisic marched towards her future on Jan. 21, she couldn’t help but think about her family’s past. They fled Islamic persecution and the Bosnian war. 

“My family came to the United States as refugees with my baby sister and my grandmother and my uncle,” she explained. “It was the ethnic cleansing, religious persecution and genocide of the Bosnian people, so it was really hard to live there for a while — not just because of the war, but because of the intolerance that existed within the region.”

Her family escaped to America and settled in Brooklyn in 1995. They had nermina just a few years later. 

But at St. James Cathedral Basilica, their struggle paid off as Nermina’s parents watched their daughter graduate from St. Francis College at the top of her class. 

“I’m just happy, I can’t explain,” said Mirsada Markisic, Nermina’s mother. “I’m telling my friends, ‘Don’t you see my wings? I folded them for now, but I’m flying.’ I’m flying. She’s just going to make a mark on the world.”

“In order for us to be where we are today, somebody down the line had to struggle,” Nermina said during her commencement speech: “My mother and my father are the ones that had to fight, quite literally, so I can be where I am today.”

Nermina honored her past with both her words and with a cap dedicated to her uncle who died in the war, using her family and her country’s struggle as motivation to strive for success.  

“My dad has worked really hard to make life comfortable for us, and that’s the reason why I work hard every day. So they don’t feel like they came here for no reason,” she said.

Up next for Nermina: she’ll be applying to law school to study international law, and one day hopes to give back to Bosnia.