ST. PAUL — Hmong College Prep Academy art teacher Andrew Lawton knew he had something special when an unassuming and quiet student began submitting his assignments for review.
Mr. Lawton’s student, Shee Sho, arrived in the U.S. in 2010 after living in war-torn Myanmar since he was born.
“I was raised in a refugee camp for most of my life,” stated Shee Sho. “When I was three, my family heard gun shots and escaped into the jungle. I was separated from my parents and lived in the jungle with my uncle, grandparents and others for a year. I was often sick. We didn’t have any medicine and no shoes. When we made it to the refugee camp, I was reunited with my parents. It had been so long that I didn’t even recognize them. I didn’t even know I had parents.”
Though he faced a number of hardships, Shee Sho’s love for art began at an early age while growing up in the refugee camp.
“I began drawing when I was four using only the art supplies that I could find, sometimes just drawing on the ground with a stick. I would also draw on paper with water. We didn’t know what an oil painting or canvas was.”
As Shee Sho continued developing his talents, others took notice and encouraged him to enter an art contest that was being held in his camp.
“I was eight at the time. I was too small to use water colors and the judges didn’t believe it was my painting. I had to prove that I did it by drawing a picture. Once they saw my work, they believed me. I then won the competition.”
Keeping in mind the challenges that his young student had experienced, Mr. Lawton was impressed with how Shee Sho took advantage of the opportunities provided within a more traditional high school setting.
“There is an enthusiasm for learning within HCPA’s ‘new to country’ students that comes to school with them every day,” stated Mr. Lawton. “I believe Shee Sho is very reflective on the opportunities that are available to him here in the U.S. It astonishes me that after experiencing so much hardship in his life he is able to see so much beauty in the world around him.”
As Shee Sho moved into his junior year, Mr. Lawton encouraged him to investigate his education opportunities after he graduated from high school. One college in particular caught the young art student’s eye.
“I heard about the Minneapolis College of Art and Design from Mr. Lawton. I became very interested in the school because it was an art college. Another new art teacher at my school is a MCAD alum and told me so much about the school. He explained about the many wonderful experiences he had at MCAD. This made me even more excited about going to an art college.”
Mr. Lawton proceeded to assist Shee Sho apply for a scholarship. Earlier this year, they were notified that he was to be the recipient of a four-year award.
“It’s wonderful! I never believed that I would be selected for a scholarship,” Shee Sho stated. “My goal is to study animation, film making or graphic design. After graduating from MCAD, I would like to help the people from my home in Burma, the refugees from my own country and teach them about art. I want to help people enjoy art and to be able to share their own stories through art.”
Mr. Lawton also sees a bright future for his former student.
“I think what Shee Sho has experienced in his life shows up in his work. More importantly, I think the changes he wants to see in the world and how he might affect that change is even more apparent in his work.”