By Moni Basu, CNN
Rome, Georgia (CNN) - Mireille Kibibi's march to the graduation stage at Berry College was tough - laden with the burdens of war.
As a little girl, she fled civil war in Burundi and escaped to neighboring Rwanda in 1994, the year of the genocide. In the chaos, she was separated from her mother, whom she has never seen again. Her father died a few years later.
Kibibi made it to the United States with her grandmother in 2005 and resumed school after missing fourth, fifth and eighth grades.
Now she was about to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting.
She felt all those things a college graduate feels: the relief that exams are over. The excitement of starting life in the real world. The joy of making your family proud.
But Kibibi's graduation was also filled with longing.
On this humid Saturday morning, as dark clouds delivered drizzle over North Georgia, Kibibi, 23, sat nervously among 377 classmates.
The rows and rows of folding chairs had been arranged on the south lawn days in advance. She wished her father and especially her grandmother could see her now, resplendent in the knee-length red dress she'd ordered on eBay. Her grandmother, who raised her, had died a while back.
"She's watching you," her friend Fatima Bostan-Ali reassured her.
"She's proud," said another friend, Lima Naseri.
Kibibi cherishes the support. She knows her friends understand. They are from Afghanistan and also have traveled uneasy paths to graduation day.
By Melissa Gray, CNN
(CNN) - The Department of Homeland Security has ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to verify, "effective immediately," that every foreign student who wants to enter the United States has a valid student visa, a U.S. government official told CNN on Friday.
The memo went out earlier this week as part of an effort to reform the student visa system, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The effort is meant to provide the agency with real-time updates on all relevant information, the official said.
News of the memo follows reports that two friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are now charged in connection with the attack, may have been in the country on student visas that were no longer valid.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19 and from Kazakhstan, were charged this week on suspicion of obstruction of justice in connection with the case.
By Jose Pagliery, CNNMoney
New York (CNNMoney) - An immigration system overhaul might finally address a growing problem: America's brain drain.
Smart foreigners who study at U.S. universities - often at taxpayer expense through scholarships - face a tough fight after graduation if they want to stay in the country.
Many share the experience of Shailesh Deshpande, who lost his fight to stay after graduating from Virginia Tech. He returned home to India and is now launching a company there.
"Don't hate me when I take jobs away from U.S. shores," he said. "Blame your government for it."
There's fear U.S. immigration laws could cripple the nation's economic growth. That's why a group of senators this week suggested creating a fast track to award green cards to foreign students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).
The current system sets quotas that limit individual countries to no more than 7% of all green cards. That makes it harder for applicants from India or China, compared to applicants from Belgium or Iceland.
Immigrants make up a surprisingly large share of STEM students in Master's and Ph.D programs: more than 40%. The sheer number has ballooned to 205,600 students as of 2011, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement records.
Although federal officials say it's difficult to accurately track how many of them leave, companies and colleges that interact with foreign students say they are increasingly being driven out of the country.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Some 20 years ago, when Troy Gunter was a new band director, he had the crazy idea that his high school students should someday march in the Rose Parade.
It’s a lofty goal for any band. The annual march through Pasadena began in 1890 and evolved into a New Year’s Day spectacle of music, flowers and football watched by 700,000 along the route and 39 million more on TV.
Gunter's school, Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, grew from a few hundred kids to more than a thousand. The private school's marching band ballooned to about 150 students and evolved into the school's Conservatory of the Arts. Over the years, the marching band took on more competitions, longer parades and overseas travel.
A few years ago, when Gunter and the band returned from a trip to Cambodia, an idea struck: Why not apply to the Rose Parade now, with an international partner?
Problem was, they didn’t really know any overseas bands. They weren’t sure how they could practice together, let alone organize for the grandest stage a high school marching band can reach.
With the 2013 parade deadline looming, they got in touch with Beijing’s No. 57 High School. The band’s director, Lu Jin, was familiar with the Rose Parade, and his band had played a few major events, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Through a contact of a contact of a contact, we got together,” Gunter said. “It was like a blind date.”
Without ever meeting, Gunter, who doesn’t speak Chinese, and Lu Jin, who doesn’t speak English, agreed to go for it.
By Faith Karimi, CNN
(CNN) - His journey started in Nigeria, a taunted teenager with large tumors on his face, driven into deep despair.
Eleven years later, Victor Chukwueke has undergone numerous surgeries and is a step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.
In a rare act, the United States Congress passed a private bill last week granting Chukwueke permanent residency after years of his living in Michigan on an expired visa. The bill is awaiting President Barack Obama's signature.
The bill would allow the Wayne State University graduate to attend medical school at the University of Toledo in Ohio, which requires him to have permanent residency.
"The day Congress passed the bill was one of the happiest days of my life," said Chukwueke, who left Nigeria as a teen in 2001 to get treatment for the tumors.
Private bills - which only apply to one person and mostly focus on immigration - seldom pass. His is the only private bill to pass in Congress in two years.
"I was overwhelmed with joy; it was nothing less than a miracle," the 26-year-old said. "Only in this country can so many miraculous and wonderful things happen to someone like me."
Before coming to the United States at age 15, Chukwueke lived in the southeastern Nigeria town of Ovim.
He suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes massive life-threatening tumors on his face.
Treated as an outcast because of his deformed face, he was depressed and humiliated, he said. His family abandoned him at an orphanage.
Nuns from the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy rescued him from the orphanage more than a decade ago and arranged for a Michigan doctor to perform surgery on him.
He says he considers himself lucky to have developed the tumors.
"Without them, I would not have met the nun, left Nigeria, arrived in the U.S. and had the miracle to attend medical school," he says.