SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – At a small liberal arts school in Minnesota, Jacky Lu did something no one else in his family has done before: he graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Biology.
His mother, brother and twin sisters crossed the country to watch him cross the stage. They’ve all come so far and now, Jacky says, they can go further.
“Graduating college means finally escaping the cycle of poverty that has troubled us for so many years. It’s hope that if I can finish college so can my siblings, and we can finally build a better life for ourselves.”
His mother needed no words to tell him what it meant. She gave him a hug – “a really big hug” – he remembers fondly.
When we first met Jacky in 2011, he and his family were living in low-income housing in the Mission district. He was still in grade school when his father began to succumb to a gambling addiction and alcohol. He began to become violent, and then one day he packed up and left. They later found out he hadn’t paid the rent for a year.
His mother was able to borrow some money from her sister in China, but they lived month-to-month, scraping by on food stamps and eventually some government aid.
“Food stamps were not enough to cover a family of five,” Jacky told us. “I was afraid of not getting fed, being homeless.” His mother didn’t speak English, so Jacky became translator, managed bills and wrote checks and helped his mom find low-income housing for the family.
“He really is the man of the house,” his dean at school, Kate Garret told KPIX.
Jacky got a scholarship through something called “the Smart Program”, and went to San Francisco University High, an exclusive private school. His siblings were also able to get scholarships. Mom always pushed education on her kids but because she didn’t speak English, Jacky was the school contact for his sisters.
“He’s pretty unstoppable. If he wants to achieve something for his family, he’s going to figure out a way to do it,” said Kate Garrett, his high school dean. She called him, “a quiet hero.”
College was the game-changer.
“College is a new breakthrough, a step in our family’s lives. We’ve been working to go to college and now it’s happening, and I’ll be the first one!” he told us when he was in high school, with excitement in his voice.
The family’s perseverance has paid off. Now that Jacky is a college graduate with a degree in Biology, he is going to work for a division of the National Institute of Health via a very prestigious training program, which is more of an award than a job. When he’s finished there, he wants to get his PhD in biology.
His brother is also Students Rising Above, attending the University of Southern California. His two sisters are still in high school. Jacky will send part of his paycheck back home to help support them. He says that college degree sets the example for his siblings.
“Being able to see that their brother can do it means that they can do it too. And for us it just means that we are starting to break out of that financial struggle,” he said.
It means hope he told us, and finally, breaking the cycle of poverty.