My parents were both born in Laos where they experienced first-hand the devastation of communism. Six of my father’s 13 siblings and his father were casualties of this conflict. My mother also lost both her parents during this time and was forced at the age of 12 to take care of her three younger siblings.
Both of my parents took refuge in Thailand where they met, got married, and had my older brother and oldest sister. Because of my father’s aid to the CIA during the Vietnam War, my family was able to move to the United States in 1984 and settle in California, where my two older sisters and I were born, which makes me the youngest of five kids.
When my family came to the United States, they didn’t have anything except each other. It was hard for them learning a new language, when they were already fluent in three other languages: Hmong, Laotian and Thai. Neither of my parents had any sort of a proper education and therefore could not pursue it when they came here, especially since they had to take care of their family first.
Because of their lack of education, for the past 24 years they have worked hard doing various sorts of unskilled labor so that my siblings and I could achieve an education that they were denied. Their greatest hopes and dreams coming to the United States were to give their children a brighter and better life than what they had to go through. In recent years, my father’s deteriorating eyesight has made him legally disabled and my mother constantly suffers aches and sores due to the hard labor that she had to do while living in Asia.
I didn’t have a lot growing up in a lower-income family, but my parents made sure that I always had enough. I hardly remember them buying anything new for themselves, and they would often go without things so that they could provide my brother, sisters and me with things that we needed. Having their children achieve an education is more important to them than anything in this world.
In 1994, my family moved to North Carolina in hopes of finding better jobs with the then-booming textile industry. The move was a big change because we settled in a small rural town unlike the city where I grew up. In grade school, I was able to excel because I had four older siblings to help me academically. While in high school, I was a member of many clubs and organizations, one of which was the Air Force JROTC. I mention this group specifically because it was through the AFJROTC that I was first introduced to Wake Forest University.
Coming from “The Biggest Little Football Town in the World,” every year the program takes a field trip to one of Wake Forest’s home football games. On the way to the game, the bus would take a quick tour through campus to let the students get a glimpse of the college. It was during this short tour my freshman year of high school that I fell in love with this institution. I was captivated by the beauty of the campus, and it was then that I decided that Wake Forest was the right place for me.
I worked very hard throughout my high school career so that I could be accepted into Wake Forest because I knew that it was a very competitive school. When I was finally accepted, I was relieved but also troubled because I knew that with the little pay that my parents had and the costs of tuition, it was not going to be easy for me or my family to meet the demands.
I prayed long and hard, and after receiving my financial letter letting me know that I was to be the recipient of the K. Wayne Smith Scholarship, it felt like my prayers were finally answered. It was by receiving this scholarship that my dream of entering Wake Forest was finally fulfilled.
In the summer before I started college, I was given the privilege to meet with Dr. Smith and his wife on his farm just three miles from where I lived. When I first met Dr. and Mrs. Smith, I was in complete awe and simply had stars in my eyes.
When I arrived here in the fall of 2005, I felt as though I had just arrived home. For the past three years, Wake Forest has been a home to me and the people here have been like family. I can honestly say that the faculty, staff and students here are some of the most sincere and kindest people in the world. Being here at Wake Forest has given me more opportunities than I could have ever imagined.
I wanted to tell you about my family and where I came from because with your help, your kindness and your generosity, you will have had a hand in helping achieve dreams of simple people like my family and me. Without people like you in this world, neither my siblings nor I would have made it into college. I am proud to report that all five kids in my family have either completed college or are enrolled in college.
I want to sincerely thank you for your kind gifts that help to further the education of students like myself. I know that without you, most of us students here in this room would not be able to proudly call ourselves Demon Deacons.
Ying Vang (’09), biology major from Newton, NC.