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Walcott honors Cambria Hts. grad for overcoming language barrier

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Berne St. Pierre was playing basketball in Port-au-Prince in 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake turned Haiti upside down and — at the least — put his schooling on hold.

“It just happened out of nowhere,” he said. “Everyone was surprised.”

Two weeks later, with a rudimentary understanding of English, Berne moved to Queens with his siblings, where he and his older sister enrolled in the Humanities and the Arts High School at the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights.

Not only did Berne quickly master the language, he passed all his required Regents exams in just two years, and for that city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott recognized him as one of 2012’s remarkable graduates.

Berne said that when he came to Queens, he could read and write a little bit of English, but could not speak it well. Through the help of his teachers and quite a few hours spent watching TV, he became fluent with relative ease.

“I was able to pick up English so quickly thanks to the help of my teachers,” he said. “They were nurturing and patient with me. It was because of their support that I was able to pass my English Regents exam on my first try.”

Since 2006, the chancellor has recognized students who have overcome personal or academic challenges to earn their diplomas.

Berne, 17, was one of 193 high school graduates from the class of 2012 to be given the distinction. Walcott recently hosted a reception for the Remarkable Achievement Award winners at Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan.

“I want to recognize this year’s winners for having the resilience to never give up in the face of adversity and going on to fulfill their dreams,” he said. “Our Remarkable Achievement Award winners have overcome obstacles related to immigration, violence and parenthood. They are an inspiration to their peers, families and all New Yorkers for their courage and commitment to earning their high school diplomas.”

Berne’s father still lives in Haiti, and with two younger brothers and an older sister, he said his family is his biggest source of motivation.

“I didn’t want to let my parents down — they were counting on me,” he said. “I knew I had to be a role model for my younger brothers. I had to be brave and show them that anything is possible.”

The young man said he is looking for a job to keep him busy during the summer and then will attend Nassau Community College in September to study computer science.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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