If you’d been through what Abigail Naraine has been through, it would be easy to close yourself off, to see the world as a dark place.
After all, if your mother had been murdered when you were a child, no one would be surprised if you view others with fear and mistrust.
But that’s not Abigail Naraine.
“To lose a parent at that age and in that way – I wouldn’t want it for anybody,” said Naraine, one of roughly 5,400 University of Central Florida students graduating this week. “What happened to my mom taught me many things, but if anything it’s that life is short. What’s the point of being bitter and angry about it? I’ve forgiven the guy who did it. I’ve let go of the bitterness and anger.”
Naraine, 24, was an 8-year-old in the second grade when she and her sister were pulled out of class at Hiawassee Elementary School in Orlando.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, we’re getting out of school early for March break.’ I was so excited,” she said. “And that’s not why we were taken out of school.”
Naraine’s mother, Lalita “Kay” Naraine, 42, was manager of a Dollar City store in west Orlando. That morning in March 2000, a man had walked into the store, tied her up and cut her multiple times. She bled to death in the back of the store.
A week later, a worker at a nearby Central Florida Fair was charged with her death in an apparent botched robbery attempt. He was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence at Liberty Correctional Institution in Florida’s Panhandle.
“I was 8 years old. I didn’t understand why people would do that,” she said. “She was the most beautiful person I knew. She was very giving. People would go into the store and kids wouldn’t have the money to pay for something. She would just say, ‘Take it and go.’”
For Abigail and her two older sisters, it was an incredible loss. They still had their father. But they missed their mother the most at special events like the high school prom and her sisters’ weddings.
At the same time, Naraine knew her mother – who’d worked two jobs to provide a better life for her daughters – would want her to be happy and successful.
“I think that’s where I find a lot of my success,” she said. “Like with my exams, when I don’t want to study I say, ‘If I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for her.’ If I were negative, I’d never be able to graduate in the top 10 percent or to make the grades that I do or to be a good sister or a good daughter or any of those things.”
When she was younger and worried about not having the guidance a mother would provide, Naraine began evaluating herself at the end of each day.
“How many hours did I spend going toward something positive like studying or making somebody’s day better?” she would ask herself. “At first, it was to make sure I was on track because I didn’t have a mom to help me. Now it’s a daily thing I feel like I need to do.”
Her relentlessly positive attitude and drive have helped Naraine excel at UCF, where she has majored in human resources management in the College of Business Administration and will graduate with cum laude honors on Saturday. Naraine’s outlook in the face of adversity have inspired others, as well.
“Abby is the type of student who helps you become a better teacher,” said Lonny Butcher, director of professional development in the College of Business Administration and Naraine’s mentor. “I owe her a lot. Interacting with Abby really changed the way I look at the loss of my own mother.”
In a way, Naraine’s mother will be with her when she dons her cap and gown to accept her degree on Saturday.
“It would be awesome if my mom would be at my graduation,” she said. “But she’s definitely in the back of my mind, pushing me to do better.”