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A graduate's journey from rural Tibet to Ingraham High School

You might say the Dalai Lama was his guidance counselor.

When Choega Thundrup dons his cap and gown Friday, it will be thanks to the spiritual leader who set him on his path, and people who risked their lives to help him get there.

Thundrup grew up on a subsistence farm in Chinese-controlled Tibet. At age 14, he decided to leave behind poverty and political subjugation to go see the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India. Choega says he walked for 17 days before Chinese police caught him, threw him in prison and subjected him to forced labor for six months. He was released and told to lay low, but he couldn't seem to sit still.

He made another attempt, and this time made it to Dharamsala, India, where he got his face-to-face meeting with the Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader counseled that the two most important things in achieving one's goals are education and self-confidence.

Choega took that advice to heart, and set about getting an education. He came to the United States, was granted refugee status and eventually made his way to Seattle.

Teachers and caregivers say he worked doggedly to learn English and master concepts – like American history – completely foreign to someone growing up in the Tibetan countryside. He’ll be graduating from Ingraham High School this week, and he plans to go to North Seattle Community College in the fall.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.