Norwich - Henmi Ng and his mom sat in the audience and applauded and cheered frequently during the inaugural event that opened the new Kelly Middle School auditorium.
Henmi Ng will graduate June 17 at the Norwich Free Academy, but last week, the 18-year-old watched the student he has tutored for three years get his diploma - his father, Ting Fat Ng. The older Ng walked away with several awards at the Norwich Regional Adult Education graduation, including the John M. Moriarty award for "determination in the pursuit of excellence" and a $500 scholarship from Liberty Bank.
Six years earlier, like many other 12-year-olds, Henmi Ng started to resent his father's relentless pressure about studying hard and doing the homework and extra work necessary to master the English language as a Hong Kong immigrant. The family had immigrated to North Carolina to join Henmi's mother, Kwai Sin Lau, who had arrived earlier and was working in a restaurant.
Ting Fat Ng knew it would be important that his son learn English to succeed in their new country. But at the time he had to work 12 to 13 hours a day in a Japanese manufacturing plant and had no time for school.
A combination of family crises and job opportunities - including Ting Fat Ng's heart attack, heart surgery and slow recovery - brought Ting and Henmi Ng to Norwich five years ago, while Lau remained in North Carolina to work.
Settled in Norwich, with dad working full time at the Mohegan Sun Casino and son attending Teachers' Memorial Middle School and then NFA, it was time for dad to go back to school. He had earned a college degree in electrical engineering in Hong Kong, but he struggled to learn English.
That's when Henmi turned tutor, pushing his father to work at his English and not give up on difficult homework assignments.
"We worked together a lot," Henmi Ng said. "There was a language barrier. He put his foot down when I was starting. He made me study. It's very satisfying to me now knowing he is graduating and that he won the superintendent's award."
In November, Ting Ng received the Norwich superintendent's award for Adult Education. Henmi joined him at the podium and talked about how proud he was of his father. On Thursday, Ting Ng added three more awards in an event that also reunited the family with a visit from Lau.
"I love you!" Lau shouted from the audience as her husband received his diploma.
"This is so exciting," she later said. "I didn't know (about the awards)."
Ting Ng and Lau plan to do the cheering on June 17 when Henmi dons the red cap and gown.
Henmi's final two weeks of school should be among his easiest. He has spent much of his NFA career hitting the books. Except for advanced piano and briefly delving into freshman sports, he passed up on the many clubs and sports the school offers to concentrate on his studies.
The effort has paid off. His grades are good enough that he won't have to take final exams and can look forward to the senior prom - no time for a girlfriend, though - senior night and graduation.
Henmi loves math, calculus and accounting and plans to major in business administration in college.
Penny Walczyk, his accounting teacher at NFA for the past two years, said the serious student has a lighter side.
"He's kind of a funny kid," Walczyk said. "He likes to joke around. He's very pleasant and makes class pleasant. Accounting can be a little dry, so we try to make it a little fun, and he jumps right in."
Henmi plans to attend Wayne Community College in North Carolina for one year before transferring to North Carolina State University. Fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and now English, Henmi Ng hopes to work in a field that helps businesses in developing nations.
Ting Fat Ng also hopes to go to college. He still is interested in electrical engineering or heating and ventilation. He likely will remain in Norwich because he likes his job at Mohegan Sun.
Henmi Ng does have one more test to take before he goes to college. His father two months ago passed his U.S. Citizenship exam. But since Henmi already had turned 18, he didn't automatically become a citizen with his dad.
"I'll take the test sometime soon," Henmi Ng said.