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From refugee to graduation speaker: Axana Soltan inspires with big heart

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- As a child Axana Soltan could only dream of standing before her graduating class at VCU. The 21-year-old commencement speaker, who lives in Chesterfield, has come a long way from her native Afghanistan.

Axana, the youngest in her family of five, immigrated to the United States when she was 10.

"I am a diligent worker. I work very hard," Axana said. "I embrace everything I am given. I take nothing for granted."

Axana and her family escaped unrest in Afghanistan in search of opportunities in the United States.

Earning an education was a top priority in her family. The VCU graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice has big plans and an even bigger heart.

"I’ve always been passionate about helping people," Axana said.

When she was just 15 years old, she founded Enhancing Children’s Living -- a non-profit that helps underprivileged students near and far. Really, really far.

ECL’s reach stretches from Richmond, to Haiti, and all the way to Afghanistan.

"Coming from that background I"ve always wanted to reach out and help those that are less fortunate than I am," Axana said.

Simple items, Axana said, like school supplies and shoes can leave an everlasting impact on others.

"It is indescribable. It is an amazing feeling knowing you can make a difference in someone’s life," Axana said.

She is an aspiring human rights lawyer who also tutors at Carver Elementary and the juvenile detention center in Richmond.

"I want to contribute to the judicial system in positive ways," Axana said.

In this political climate where immigration and refugees remain front and center Axana wants to remind people what newcomers can offer.

"A refugee can be a class president. An accomplished student. A lawyer and a humanitarian," Axana said.

Axana Soltan said she remains forever grateful for her chance to stand before her graduating class and at the doorstep of the American Dream.

"I would not have the opportunities I have here if I was living in Afghanistan I would not be free to go to school and become a commencement speaker and do all of these wonderful things that I’m doing I am very thankful to this country," she said.

Axana said she wanted to continue her education in law school this fall. She aspires to be a human rights attorney and eventually become a judge.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.