When Dejana was in grade 3 her parents made the difficult decision to immigrate. The war in their native Serbia was too close.
A brother killed. A cousin raped. Another missing.
These are the stories of the war. Stories that touched too many lives of their family, friends and neighbours. Stories Dejana’s parents did not want their daughter to grow up knowing or experiencing.
They came to Canada. A land far, far away from the beautiful country of their birth. They came to Calgary, a city far, far different than their beloved hometown.
They came and made a life. They learned English. The parents found work. Dejana went to school. She made friends. Memories. Stories. She created her life. A life that reflects the heart of this amazing young woman whom I’ve known for 12 years, when she and my eldest daughter became fast friends their first few days of Junior High.
Dejana and her parents have lived in Calgary sixteen years now. They’ve bought a home. Settled into their adopted land and become Canadians. They’re proud of how far they’ve come, and, as her mother recently told me when I asked if she ever wished she could go back to her native land, “We did this for Dejana. We wanted her to have a different life, one that didn’t include always fearing what might happen.”
There is sadness in Dejana’s mother’s voice. Sadness for the loss of the times she remembers before the war when her country was safe, secure. “We had one of the highest standards of living anywhere,” she proudly said. But politics and centuries old animosities over-took the peace.
“It could happen again,” she said. And she sighs. “It is not stable. Who knows what might happen?”
And then she smiles. “Coming here has been worth it.” She puts one arm around her daughter’s shoulders where she sits beside her. “We are so proud of her. She’s worked so hard and now, she has achieved her goal. She has made it happen.”
This Friday Dejana defends her masters thesis. She flies to Victoria this morning and her parents will join her tonight. On Friday morning, two cousins, and a handful of friends, including my eldest daughter, will be there to support her and celebrate her achievement.
It is an amazing accomplishment. To come to a strange land. Learn the language. Make friends. Study. Excel. And now this.
It is amazing, but not really. If you knew Dejana you’d know why. She has always been committed. Dedicated. A hard worker. She’s always been willing to do what it takes to create more of what she wants in her life.
At twenty-six, Dejana portrays the same qualities that made her so engaging 12 years ago when I first met her. Compassionate. Kind. Caring. Dejana has a beautiful heart. When C.C. and I go away, Dejana turns up at our house to care for the animals. On her phone she has pictures of Ellie the wonder pooch and Marley the great cat. She likes to show people how Marley helped her write her thesis — by sitting on the keyboard of her laptop. “I couldn’t tell him to get off,” she laughs. “He was just trying to help.” Ellie on the other hand was not so helpful. She just wanted to play. To convince Dejana to feed her or, better still, take her for a walk. “She used to dance around me where ever I sat, begging me to play with her.”
Ellie is no slouch. She knows a mark when she sees one and Dejana’s kind heart cannot not help but give in to Ellie’s entreaties. Her daily walk goes up to 3 or 4 times a day when Dejana is here.
Dejana’s parents are incredibly proud of their daughter. So am I.
Dejana will make a difference in the world. She already has. Her thesis is on Community Engagement. What it takes. What it means. Why it’s important. Living here in Calgary, there’s a lot of room for community engagement — oil companies are constantly trying to push the envelope so they can drill on prairies soils. Engaging community in the process is imperative.
Dejana knows this and she wants to ensure it happens — the right way, for the right reasons, for the best outcome.
Tomorrow, Dejana defends her thesis. She’s worked hard for this. She deserves to celebrate and be celebrated.
Congratulations Dejana. Go for it!
You are amazing.