By Bopha Cheng
Co-Chair, Education Committee
Cambodian American Community Council of Washington
On Saturday, May 20th Cambodian American communities around the state came together to honor and recognize its 2017 graduates at the TAF Bethaday Community Learning Space in White Center, Seattle. Hosted by the Cambodian American Community Council of Washington State (CACC); over 150 families, supporters and community member came together to celebrate 28 Cambodian graduates earning their high school diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. Cambodians, who are ethnically Khmer, Cham, Khmer-Leou, Khmer Krom, and Khmer-Chinese are amongst the lowest achieving AAPI groups in educational attainment. According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 40% of Cambodians have less than a high school diploma, and only 14% holds a bachelor’s degree. “The hope is to provide a platform to recognize and honor our future generations and their great milestones in academics, we must build positive stereotypes for our youth,” says Bopha Cheng, co-chair of the CACC Education Committee. She identifies that many are first-generation college students who come from communities of trauma and have experienced multiple levels of hardship; all of which are identities that experience barriers in education.
The celebration was a success! Graduates and families that attended came from various communities throughout the state – some traveling from as far as Longview, WA and all the way up to Everett, WA. The keynote speaker was a testament of Cambodian American success and pride, especially as a local of the area. Dr. Nikum Pon, Director of Equity in Education from the Puget Sound Educational Service District, shared his pearls of wisdom and insights on giving back to our communities. The graduates were also blessed to hear from a second guest speaker, CAPAA Commissioner Zer Vue, to encourage the graduates to engage with the broad Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as well as to inspire graduates to pursue their dreams. The Cambodian Graduation Celebration would not have been possible without its sponsors: SEAeD, CAPAA, AANAPISI, Eazy Duz It Car Club and the Cambodian American Friendship Foundation.
The CACC serves the Cambodian American communities in Washington State and was erected after the 40th Year Anniversary of the Killing Fields, Remembering the Past and Welcoming the Future in 2015. The organization bridges over a dozen Cambodian organizations in Washington and work towards building stronger communities together. The CACC recognize that ethnic and cultural pride are hallmarks of a positive self-image for a young person and may impact their academic persistence. Serving our youth and future generations is critical to the success of our communities. Thus, we recognize a need to celebrate our accomplishments and plan for our future generations.