by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot
(KPIX 5) — Like many new college grads, Tommy Saephan often felt like his graduation day would never come. The University of California, Berkeley biology major experienced the usual college life stressors that most students do: class schedules, homework, and cramming for exams. However, unlike most of his classmates, for Saephan, there was something much deeper. During his childhood, Saephan’s immigrant family struggled to make their way in America. It was a tough road.
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“My family emigrated here from a refugee camp in Thailand in 1991. Soon after that, my mom had me in 1996,” recalled Saephan. “She was only about 15 years old. So, I guess a big problem with that is just, you know, being so young, not even having graduated high school yet, it was really hard for her to take care of me.”
Living with their mom was hard for Saephan and his younger sister. Eventually both children would leave their mother’s home to live with close family members. In his new home, Saephan blossomed as his education took center stage in his life. He became an honors student in high school, student body president, and eventually went on to graduate with an associate’s degree along with his diploma.
Saephan had found his pathway to success: education. College was the logical next step.
“I knew I always wanted to go to college but I didn’t know the ‘how to’,” explained Saephan.
Enter Students Rising Above. Saephan said SRA guided him every step of the way, providing both academic and financial support as he made his way through UC Berkeley. Now, as a newly-minted college grad, Saephan says SRA is still helping him succeed.
“Working with their post-graduation team, working with their own career counselors,” explained Saephan, “helping me find what I can do after I graduate, SRA has always been there as that constant support for me.”
On a very special graduation day event, Saephan celebrated with other students – the Berkeley Hope Scholars, who like him, were all raised in homes without their parents. Like Saephan, are all proud Cal Berkeley graduates. It was a joyous occasion. Even as Saephan enjoyed the moment, he had a message for anyone who feels like his or her future looks less than bright.
“Just stay resilient,” he said. “No matter how grim the situation looks, stay positive. Continue to push yourself to better yourself and just stay strong in your ways.”