Prag bonded with Lillian at the Village at Cataumet.
On October 5, 2009 Pragyashree (Prag) Sharma Basyal celebrated her 18th birthday by coming to America with her family from Nepal. When she graduates from Cornell University in May 2015 she plans on fulfilling her American dream by becoming a US citizen.
“It is my graduation gift to myself,” she said to five of her peers situated inside the Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) headquarters in Hyannis, where the group volunteered during their school’s spring break.
Prag’s path to receiving her diploma is unusual and one that goes beyond having to adjust to a new country and its customs and norms. Her route was filled with obstacles that required daily sacrifices she considered normal, but many in her generation would not.
Shortly after arriving in the United States her parents got sick so Prag did what came natural – she cared for them with the help of her younger brother. “They are my first priority because I believe they did what they could and gave me everything they could when I was a child,” she said. “I think this is the time I have to give back: when they need me the most. I feel it is my responsibility because they took care of me when I was young.”
She balanced her commitment to her parents with finding a job, receiving her certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant through Baltimore City Community College, which allowed her to work at a long-term care facility and gave her the funds to support not only her needs, but to supplement those of her family.
On top of that she enrolled at the Community College of Baltimore County, juggling family and work obligations with school, graduating last year with an associates degree in biology and serving as the president of the college’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
Her academic success caught the attention of Cornell University which offered her a full scholarship. “I never expected I was going to get in,” Prag said, humbly. “When the financial package came in I pinched myself.”
Currently a junior, Prag is enjoying her first year at Cornell where she is in the Ivy League school’s biology & society program, with a minor in global health.
Julie Wake, HAC's communications director, chats with Prag during a luncheon for the Cornell students.
While on Cape Cod Prag shared her story with students at Barnstable High School and Dennis-Yarmouth High School, providing a shining example of how success does not have to come at the expense of others, especially family.
After one presentation, Prag had a high school student come up to her and express how much “she was inspired because of my story,” she said. “That really motivated me.”
As Prag continues on her path, there will undoubtedly be others who will find inspiration and realize that there is no one correct way to achieve your goals.
For Prag that goal is to one day become a doctor and use her degree to help the types of clients HAC sees on a daily basis. “I want to work for patients who do not have the opportunity to go to a hospital or have the ability to pay for it,” she said.
This summer she will experience the rewards of that kind of work when she takes part in Cornell’s eight-week summer program in Tanzania that will offer her the opportunity to combine scholarly work with the practical through a service-related project.
She is already preparing for that trip by learning Swahili which will only add to the growing list of languages she can speak: Nepalese, English, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish.
As to why she wants to get into medicine, Prag credited her parents, who both worked in similar fields in Nepal, for providing that direction. “I just saw my parents working in a hospital and helping others and how satisfied they were when somebody had been saved,” she said.