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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Journey to diploma starts in Cambodia

Roth Prom, A Cambodian-born immigrant, sits in front of a computer in the yearbook room at Lexington High Senior High School. Prom has earned a full scholarship to Wake Forest University in the fall.

The Dispatch

By the time she was 2 years old, Roth Prom had experienced more than most people do in an entire lifetime. But her exceptional story has only fueled her determination to succeed.

To escape political unrest, Prom's family fled their native Cambodia when she was still in diapers.

Remembering most of her story through photos and accounts given by her father, Prom, now a senior at Lexington Senior High School, described in detail how her mother carried her through the Cambodian jungle to the border of Thailand.

"The journey to Thailand is dangerous because the government can turn you back, and you can possibly get killed," she explained.

Even though her family was robbed at gunpoint and lost the Cambodian equivalent of $100,000, she still says, "We were lucky."

In Thailand, Prom lived in multiple refugee camps where her family experienced the hardships of forced emigration.

"There were a lot of families there in the same position as we were," she said. "We had to ration, and we had to fight for food."

Prom and her family finally made it to the U.S. in 1992. They first lived in Seattle, Wash., and moved around a lot before settling in North Carolina. At one point, Prom said, she lived in a two-room apartment constantly filled with family members.

Now, the self-described rambunctious child is preparing to attend Wake Forest University on $46,000 worth of renewable financial aid. She plans to major in pre-med.

"I used this story to help me," Prom said, describing the application and interview process. "When they asked, 'What could you talk about all day?' I said, 'My parents.'"

She credits them with instilling in her a drive to excel in all areas of her life. One of the most important lessons she ever learned, Prom said, came from her mother: "If you know what you want, go after it, you can't just sit back and wait for it to come to you."

That's just what Prom, who will graduate June 13, has done in her four years at Lexington Senior High. In addition to completing five Advanced Placement courses, she has been a member of the Environmental Club, Quiz Bowl and the basketball, volleyball and track teams. Prom was also the business manager of the yearbook this year, helping raise more than $10,000 in advertisements.

"We're (Prom and her siblings) so thankful to our parents to have brought us here, and I'm just trying to give back to what they gave me."

Prom describes herself as very family-oriented. Each week, she helps care for her four nephews, taking them to karate practice and to school functions.

"It's a great family. You can't help but be family-oriented going through that kind of stuff," she said, referring to their decision to leave Cambodia for a better life.

Though she has lived in the U.S. for the majority of her 18 years, Prom is proud of her Cambodian roots. She hopes to visit family there someday soon.

"It's been quite a journey," she said. "I think it's only done us good to come here."

Ryan Jones can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or at
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