Memories of Henh Ly

Memories of Henh Ly
Henh Ly (Henry Lee) first sat down in my 9th grade MYP Modern World History class at
William Fleming in the fall of 2002. I instantly recognized his face as I taught one of his older
brothers, Manh Ly, in the same classroom, the same subject just two years earlier. Like Mahn,
and later Long (his younger brother), Henh approached his schoolwork in a very serious manner,
but unique to Henh was his profound sense of humor and the absolute glow he brought to the
lives he touched.
Henh was not one to follow trends, and although he profoundly respected the land of his
adopted home he never lost sight as to what it meant to be an immigrant to this country.
Although Henh emigrated from Vietnam, he was culturally Chinese. A quiet and bashful young
man when I first met him, by the time he was ready to graduate from the IB programme at
William Fleming he had blossomed into quite the philosopher and comedian. In our Theory of
Knowledge class, Henh spent many moments explaining to me, and to his classmates, how
someone from another culture might view topics such as religion and freedom of speech
differently than those native to the United States. He understood the meaning of freedom, and he
understood how important it was to live one’s principles through navigating the daily
complexities of life.
One difficulty that Henh thought would hold him back from successfully completing the
International Baccalaureate Diploma was his struggle to master his thoughts through writing in
the English language. “I just can’t do it, Ms. Landon”, he would say, “I just don’t think I can
make it all the way through the IB programme”. But, not only did he make it, he graduated
second in his class.
A few days prior to delivering his commencement speech at our spring 2006 graduation
Henh came to me stumped as to what topic he should talk about. All he kept saying over and
over was “Ms. Landon, what will I talk about? I don’t know what I have to say”! I looked at
him and said “Remember what your biggest fear was in the ninth grade? You said you would
never make it through the IB, but look at you, not only have you made it through with flying
colors, you also just became an American citizen! Speak about your hopes, your fears, and what
your journey might mean to others who are struggling to be understood in a new land”. He
thanked me for the idea, and quietly left.
On the day of graduation, Henh walked up to me and handed me a beautiful card in
which he thanked me for always believing in him even when he did not. I always get emotional
when I watch my kids walking across the stage, hoping and praying that I made some small
difference in their young lives. When Henh got up and delivered his speech, the tears began to
flow down my cheeks because I realized that he truly did realize his story was worth being told.
He had not only learned how to master his thoughts in English, he had learned just how
important his life journey was to others just like himself…
Henh’s family, friends, and teachers will always remember him as that silly little “spastic
dude” he liked to refer to himself as being, but more importantly we will remember the laughter,
the joy, the beautiful origami he created, and the memories of a young man who realized his own
American dream….
Note about the Author
Katrina Landon is a nationally certified teacher at William Fleming High School and serves as its
IB coordinator. She will be leaving Fleming at the end of this school year after 15 years of
service in order to complete her PhD in education at Virginia Tech. She will be accepting Henry
Lee’s posthumous degree in engineering at commencement services on Saturday.