PALO ALTO (CBS 5) – This week’s Student Rising Above excels at school to honor his parents, and the family he lost in the killing fields of Cambodia.
Sumat Lam remembers the time when he and his family took a trip to Cambodia when he was a little boy. Lam’s parents saved every penny to show their children the country they left behind. A home video that captured images of people in Cambodia living with poverty still replays in Lam’s mind.
“I was just shocked. There were no words to describe what I was seeing,” said Lam. “The things they were wearing had holes. They wore torn rags and shoes.”
It could have been him.
Lam began to understand the history of his family and how far his parents journeyed to give their children a new life.
“I want to show my parents gratitude for what they were able to do for me,” said Lam. “I see that ultimate way of showing gratitude is to excel in education.”
Sumat Lam graduated from Pittsburg High this year with a 4.56 GPA, better than perfect.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is a student, because I think of him as another teacher,” said Andy Kaiser. Andy Kaiser recruited Sumat for his student I.T. team, maintaining the school computers.
“Whenever there’s a very difficult problem, one that maybe I don’t even know how to solve, I’ll put him on the case,” said Andy Kaiser. “He’ll research it, and go online and figure it out, and teach me a thing or two.”
It was also his willingness to help others that made Lam different.
“He does have that sense, that he has gone through a lot of struggles and that formed the person he is,” said Andy Kaiser.
The struggles started before he was even born. His parents met in a refugee camp, escaping the killing fields of Cambodia where 1.7 million people were killed.
“They saw things,” said Lam. “Just the emotion that they feel that they’re trying to hide, it’s so strong, that I feel it.
His parents never talk about it, but they lost an uncle, an aunt, a father, brother, cousin, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law.
“You want to be able to ease their pain as you grow up, and I’m at a loss as to how to do that for them,” said Lam.
In the United States, they’ve scraped by month to month, especially after Lam’s dad injured his spine and couldn’t work. Lam often worried.
“I grew up with nothing,” said Lam. “But I have the opportunity to get past that, and get something out of life.”
“He really has that attitude where he wants to make a difference in people’s lives, and I’ll want to follow and see what he’s doing,” said Andy Kaiser.
Sumat Lam began college at Stanford University this past fall.