Bosnian refugee slated to receive education degree at commencement Saturday

By Janel Shoun-Smith on 5/3/2013

  
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When about 650 graduates walk across the stage at Lipscomb University’s May commencement at 2 p.m. on Saturday, one graduate will be celebrating a milestone on a journey that began hiding in her home’s basement’s in Zenica, Bosnia, during the Bosnian War.

grad fall 07 1Snjezana “Anna” Stanisic of Nashville will receive an elementary education degree from Lipscomb at graduation in Allen Arena, a goal that at some points in her life seemed impossible.

Stanisic was born in 1990, two years before the Bosnian War broke out, so most of her early childhood was spent hiding in the basement while NATO airplanes flew over the neighborhood. Her mother Jele cared for Anna and her sister, Vesna, at home, while her father, Goran, was drafted into military service and spent years away from the family. Her grandfather and many other family members were killed in the conflict.

But despite the family’s struggles in Bosnia, Stanisic’s real challenge began when she was nine-years-old and the family moved to America. “I moved to Nashville in the third grade, and my English skills were nonexistent. I could not read, write or speak English,” she says. “I would sit in class and just smile, because I didn’t understand anything!”

“My parents couldn’t help me with my homework, and the teachers didn’t have as much ELL (English language learner) training as they do today,” Stanisic said. “That was part of the reason I wanted to become a teacher.”

She caught on quick, however, and by fifth grade was performing above average. She went on to great academic success in the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System. As she had the opportunity to learn English faster than her parents, she and her sister became translators. They paid the bills and navigated around the city. “I had to grow up a lot quicker (than other children),” she added.

Then in college, Stanisic faced her latest and perhaps hardest challenge this past September: her father Goran passed away from lung cancer.

“I ended up missing a lot of days last fall, right before my student teaching. But everyone was so understanding. I ended up on the honor roll for my last semester,” she said.