Ruth Phaviset Faces Down Challenges, Looks to Future

Senior Ruth Phaviset and NYCL honoree is making the most of her high school experience to prepare for her future.

Senior Ruth Phaviset and NCYL honoree is making the most of her high school experience to prepare for her future.

East High School senior Ruth Phaviset hefts an overstuffed book bag over her shoulder in the student commons at Central Campus and heads, let’s see, where to next? Work as a nurse’s aide? Hospice to volunteer? Orchestra or choir practice? Or home to study into the wee hours?

She is used to toting heavy loads. As a matter of fact, the burden these days is comparatively light for the petite, pretty and unsinkable girl wearing glasses and a wisecracky t-shirt with her long, dark hair clipped up and back, busy student-style.

“Are you going to take pictures?” she asked by e-mail. “Because I really don’t look very attractive today.”

Later, within minutes of meeting her, you realize that she would have been giggling at herself when she offered that appraisal. Ruth has difficulty suppressing a bashful yet outgoing smile. She’s just beginning to understand how others see her and mentions frequently how short she is. That depends on the standard of measurement.

Not surprisingly Ruth was one of East’s nominees to the National Council on Youth Leadership for the Class of 2015. That in itself is a distinct honor for any student. Then, at the annual conference held by the local NCYL chapter on the campus of Drake University on September 14-15 she was named one of four Outstanding Youth Leaders for central Iowa out of a pool of 250 exceptional students.  Ruth will receive a partial college scholarship and an expense paid trip to the NCYL Town Meeting of Tomorrow held at Washington University in St. Louis later this month. Again, these are notable achievements under any circumstances – but particularly so in Ruth’s remarkable case.

When Ruth was in middle school at Hiatt her mother, Bai Xaysana, who came to America as a Laotian refugee, suffered a severe stroke. Her father was already absent. Money was already scarce. Ruth’s life had room for little more than caring for her mother and working to earn money to help support the rest of her family when she began high school.

When her mother passed away during Ruth’s freshman year her grades weren’t where they are now. And who wouldn’t have understood if they’d declined in the wake of such a profound loss at such a pivotal stage of life?

Maybe Ruth’s older brother for one, who heads the household she joined in the absence of their father. She also has sisters and nieces and nephews there and they all support one another.

But mostly it was Ruth’s own determination to become a healer that lifted her from the depths of her lowest days and set her on a path to become her mother’s living legacy. To hear her tell it all she really lacks is sleep.

“Yes, I sometimes have to pull all-nighters to get everything done,” she admits. “But I remember the words my mother would say to me when I took care of her. ‘There are just some things in life you got to do.’”

Besides scholarships she intends to work her way through school as a practicing nurse while studying pharmacy at Drake. Eventually she’d like to become a pediatrician and take her skills to underserved areas of the world. Thanks to nursing classes available at Central Campus, Ruth is already well on her way to certification in that field at DMACC.

Through personal misfortune Ruth has found her calling in life. The patients in her promising future will notice right away that just being around her makes them feel better.

Published on