She was found wrapped in a blanket behind a trashcan, crying and alone in grave danger.
A baby, maybe three months old out in the elements, with no name, no home. Maybe no tomorrow at all.
It was the first day of January, 1997, in the city of Qingdao, in the province of Shandong, in Eastern China. The baby, with no loved one near, was rescued by a woman who passed by – a woman she would come to call Nai Nai or “Grandma.”
Nai Nai named her Lyiang and raised her for 13 years through mostly harsh financial circumstances. After so long together, Nai Nai had to send the girl to an orphanage. There was no more money to care for her.
Lost again, this child.
The “yang” in Liyang means sunshine. And on Friday, Liyang Bishop, once little and lost, is set to graduate as one of 12 valedictorians at Glenvar High School.
She was adopted from that orphanage, and received a third chance. She’s made the most of it.
“Glenvar is my second family,” Liyang said during a recent phone conversation. “I can’t believe how caring, how supportive everyone has been. I am excited to graduate, but also very sad to leave.”
“We can’t really describe how proud we are of Liyang.,” said Glenvar Principal Joe Hafey. “We have been such a better place just having her with us.”
An amazing story. An amazing 18-year old woman now. A girl adopted as an adolescent from that orphanage by Robert and Regina Bishop of the Mason’s Cove neighborhood. That alone is remarkable and joyous.
A short time after arriving in Washington, D.C, then traveling to the Valley, Liyang was enrolled at Glenvar Middle School. She knew no English.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “It was a foreign land. I was a stranger to everything.”
Four plus years later, Liyang is now more than fluent in English. She’s a delightful, confident, creative and self-amused soon-to-be college student.
“I guess I do have an interesting story,” she said. “It’s who I am. I better be interested, right?”
She laughs readily. Liyang Bishop is clearly someone who, with the cocoon formed by her family, has taken extraordinary obstacles and turned them into extraordinary opportunities.
“I have incredible parents and siblings,” Liyang said. “I am lucky, that’s what I am.”
She knows as few do that life is, indeed precious.
Liyang’s journey is the stuff of movies, so powerful and beautiful, though, because it is real.
It has happened right here among us, in a home, on our sidewalks, in our classrooms, in a community that said to Liyang: “Join us.” No movie sets. Just moments.
Nai Nai, the woman who saved the baby from that street, was chastised by her family for doing so. You see, a relative died right after Nai Nai brought the infant home.
In turn, Liyang was labeled a jinx, she says. Her survival was a triumph, but only one person in the new family wanted her. Nai Nai was told to choose. She chose Liyang.
18 years later, here is the impending graduate. Her tears are succeeded by smiles.
“We struggled so much,” Lyiang said, hesitating as she remembered the toughest times.
Really tough. The kind she doesn’t like to talk much about.
“I know Nai Nai stood up for me and did everything to give me the best life could. She was my hero and will always be my hero.”
Where would Lyiang be without the woman named Nai Nai? She has no idea. None.
Today, Liyang Bishop is a skilled artist, an outstanding track and cross-country athlete at Glenvar who competed at state, and enjoys the art of grasping science. Well, she enjoys just about everything that makes her mind grow.
Liyang plans to be a college professor someday.
“After taking some courses at Virginia Western,” she said, “I will go on to George Mason University.”
What does she want to study, research and teach?
“Chinese culture and history,” Liyang said.
And in doing so, she will learn about herself, her heritage and her first home.
“Yes, I guess that’s true,” she said. “I will.”
Principal Hafey says Liyang was as good a student as Glenvar could get, especially with the disadvantage that accompanied her when she came in the door.
“She couldn’t understand anyone,” he said, “and they couldn’t understand her.”
Liyang listens to that and laughs once more. Then she becomes serious.
“I was so depressed for many months when I first got to school,” she said. “I did not feel smart. I could not make friends. I didn’t think I could do well here.”
When kids tried to talk to her, for a good while Lyiang came to learn two phrases in English. She didn’t know what they meant, really.
They were, “I don’t know.” And, “Okay.”
That was it. It delivered the message.
“It was hard to walk the halls,” Liyang said. “I felt lost all over again.”
But once again, not for long.
“People just took to Liyang,” Principal Hafey said. ”You couldn’t help it. The teachers stepped up and watched out for her. She was surrounded by an atmosphere of caring and sharing,”
Liyang had no tutor. She just had life. Day after day, with English everywhere. Eventually, this bright newcomer began to speak it. Then, she mastered it.
Today, she’s clustered at the top of the class with the other valedictorians who achieved beyond a 4.0. Liyang Bishop could not have performed and achieved any better. How many of us can say that?
This kind of and commitment and culmination, that girl in China could never dream about.
Dreams not so long ago involved food and shelter. And the question in the orphanage: would someone pick me? Would someone take me and love me?
The 18-year old Liyang is a dreamer and a thinker, and she reveals some of her thoughts and feelings in her art. She began drawing and painting at a pretty young age. Just started, with no guidance. And continued.
“It’s just natural,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m any good. I just enjoy doing it.”
Art helps her relax. Relax and remember, when she wants to remember. Because her past in China is a central part of her.
A few years ago, Liyang began doing paintings of people’s faces, and self-portraits, too.
“I love looking at eyes,” the graduating senior said. “As they say, they’re the window to the soul. I pay so much attention to eyes when they talk to me.”
Maybe that’s because for so long, that’s all she could understand.
Ann Blomberg has been Liyang’s art teacher at Glenvar.
“She is a pleasure to have in class and has so much artistic talent,” Blomberg said. “She creates unique designs in her work. Liyang is fun, creative, and sweet natured. She always makes me smile.”
With this reservoir of talent, could Liyang’s birthparents be creative people? She doesn’t know.
The young woman thinks about her birthparents, her birthmother who likely left this infant somewhere she’d be found. With the blanket around her tiny body.
“It’s kind of difficult to say how I think about my birthparents,” Liyang said, “since I don’t know the reason they weren’t able to keep me.”
She continued. “I’m pretty sure it was hard for them to give me up. Sometimes, I wonder what my life would have been like if my parents didn’t leave me.”
Her earliest story – who she comes from – is all a remarkable and rare mystery, and it may always be one to Liyang Bishop.
She does feel grateful to her birthparents, though, no matter the circumstances of why she was left on that street long ago.
“I feel pretty thankful for their decision, “ she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am or accomplish what I’ve accomplished without their decision.”
Liyang Bishop has spirit and wisdom, along with the effervescence of youth. She is tranquil inside and the tenacious student-athlete on the outside. She is warm and full of wonder.
“My parents, Glenvar, this country, this town, Salem,” she said. “I’m nothing but fortunate.”
Liyang wants to go back to China someday soon. Since her adoption by the Bishops, she’s never been.
“It is not as free as it should be there,” she said, “but it’s getting better. I want to see more and more freedom of expression in China.”
She certainly isn’t afraid to express herself here.
A child once alone has been embraced, and she’s become an example of how much love can mean to someone who starts off without even an identity.
There is Nai Nai, and the Bishops of Mason’s Cove. Her sisters, also from China, and two brothers. And all the Glenvar good that gravitated to the once-shy newcomer.
Friday morning, along with 123 richly deserving students, Liyang is set to graduate in Glenvar Stadium.
She’ll accept her diploma with the kind of history a rare few have. And a life ahead with more remarkable stories, still untold.
18 years later, the little baby lost is most certainly found.