2014 Yee Leng Thao

Yee Leng Thao used to see the obstacles he faced in life as “the Berlin Wall and I thought I could not possibly climb over that wall.”

Now, he realizes his thinking was faulty.  Currently a senior at Washington Technology Magnet High School in St Paul, Yee knows that his destiny is in his own hands.  He says that when the situation gets tough one has to “willing let yourself rise above the situation, stay the course, and eventually overcome the barrier.”  That is exactly what Yee does in his own life, a life that has already presented its fair share of obstacles.

As a toddler, Yee contracted meningitis, which left him with a profound hearing loss. In elementary school, Yee was in a self-contained program for deaf and hard of hearing students.  He worked incredibly hard to keep pace with the hearing students.  His strong academic performance led to him moving to the regular classroom with only minimal support for his hearing loss. 

His hearing disability is not the only obstacle Yee has had to rise above. In eighth grade, Yee’s father suffered a stroke that left him unable to work.  Yee and his parents had to move in with Yee’s brother and his family to make ends meet.  Yee spends a great deal of his time assisting with his father’s care and looking after his four nieces and nephews, all while continuing to focus on school and maintaining a 3.9 grade point average.  In addition, Yee finds time to participate in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and other extracurricular activities and volunteer projects.

Next year, Yee hopes to begin college to pursue a career in a science-related field.  He is choosing between the University of Minnesota in Duluth and Morris and St. Cloud State University.  Ultimately, he hopes to be a politician but knows he will have to put that dream on hold for a while.  After all, he says with a smile, “I can’t become president until I’m 35.”