age 21, junior,
My parents don't know I have this scholarship. It is very hard to explain to them what I got. They think it's all paid for by the state. I don't tell them about my successes. I don't tell them because of my little brother. When he was little, they put a lot of pressure on him by pointing out my achievements. I was very lucky growing up in a middle class neighborhood. Even though my family was poor, I was exposed to people who were better off. It was the peak of my parents' financial stability. They owned a doughnut shop, which for some reason was the most common Cambodian immigrant, get-rich-quick scheme in the '90s. My brother was not so lucky. When he was growing up, my parents' business went under. They moved down south. My brother now has to deal with all the problems of a poor neighborhood and the stress my parents put on him-because of me-is not making it easier.
Yarun Luon, age 21, junior, Computer Science and Engineering. Photo by Mary Levin.
My parents came from Cambodia in 1980. I am not really sure how, but they left because of the genocide that was happening in the country. They refuse to talk about it now. I guess they try to put the past behind them. Every time I try to ask about what happened, my dad turns stone cold and won't say anything. My mom just starts crying. I am what you call second generation. My parents decided to have me after they came here. We still have few relatives in Cambodia, but if Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime hadn't ever occurred, I'd have so many aunts and uncles. They're all gone now.
My dad managed to get a high school education, not college. My family does not value education very highly. But I wanted to be successful in life. I wanted to be able to take care of my family, of my parents. So I figured I should go to college, because education is very valuable-it opens doors.
My parents know that education is important, but unfortunately they don't know the system. They have always told me to study hard, but in terms of getting around the system, I had to do it on my own. I went to high school in Shoreline. I got exposed to computers at an early age. I have always worked on them at school. My third grade teacher encouraged us to use computers, but I was the only one doing it. So I became better than others, and when you're better at something else, you just want to keep on doing it. I did well in school, got involved in the community service through the environmental club and worked a lot at regular high school part-time jobs. All of that, I guess, helped me to receive the Gates Scholarship.
At the time when they awarded the Gates to me, I was not as happy as I should have been. I thought, "OK, a cherry on top of my other scholarship." I took it for granted back then, but I am not taking it for granted anymore. The biggest impact this scholarship had on me-it really encouraged me to get a master's. It enabled me to focus not so much on finances, but on the academic part of college.
You have to be careful when you talk about your scholarships. I don't want to appear cocky to people. The Gates is such a great scholarship. It allows you a full ride to go as long as you want. I am lucky to be one of the very few students graduating with no loans. I know that the majority of Cambodians live in poverty in America and the fact that I was able to climb the ladder makes me feel good and in a way I do feel I represent them-I am going to give them a good name, you'd say.