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Technology helps bring commencement to parents of international student

A member of the Class of 2018 will be able to share this special day with her parents, neither of whom have been out of their home country before.   

The parents of Barang Phuk have never been to the Elon University campus. They have never walked on Scott Plaza where these this Elon senior will graduate later this week. In fact, they’ve never been out of their home country of Cambodia.

But on Saturday, May 19 when Phuk walk across the commencement stage with 1,400 of their classmates, her parents will be tuning in to watch her take that stroll, thanks to technology.

For Phuk, her parents will tune into a streamed broadcast of commencement they’ll view from Jay Pritzker Academy, the school outside Siem Reap, Cambodia, that Phuk attended, after traveling there from their rural home. Phuk is excitedly looking forward to them being able to share in the experience that has helped mold her during the past four years and given her the tools to pursue her hope of returning to the country as a human rights attorney.

Little in her early life would have pointed to Phuk having the opportunity and resources to pursue a college degree in the United States or landing at Elon. She grew up in rural areas of Cambodia where few graduated from high school let alone headed off to a university. And she now plans to pursue a career that will allow her to make a difference in her home community so that others can have the opportunities they have made the most of.

 “It’s common to see people not go to school because they don’t believe in education,” she says. “I realized that if I can’t do something to change my entire country, then maybe I can just change my community.”

Phuk’s parents won’t be able to make the trip to Elon, but on Commencement Day will receive a glimpse into the campus she’s been immersing herself into during the past four years and the people she’s been studying with and learning from. Her father, a retired police officer, and her mother are shopkeepers who sell fruits and vegetables in the Cambodian countryside. She was the only one of their children they could afford to send to public school.

“Growing up, the first English I learned to speak was, ‘Hello, would you like to buy some mangoes?” Phuk says with a laugh.

Elon President Connie Ledoux Book presenting Barang Phuk with the "Oustanding Leader" award from the Elon International Society this month.

​Phuk excelled at school, and was invited to attend The Jay Pritzker Academy, a private K-12 school that provides free education to Cambodian children who can’t afford it. It was there, she says, that she realized that she wanted to work for change by pursuing a college education in the United States and then using what she learned to impact the lives of those in her Cambodian community. Central to that is ensuring the children, young girls in particular, have the opportunity to become educated, she says.

Phuk was in the first graduating class of The Jay Pritzker Academy, and one of only two graduates who went on to study in the United States. Phuk is an Odyssey Scholar at Elon, where she has majored in international business and political science and worked in the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center. She’s been a leader within the Asian-Pacific Student Association, and served as treasurer for the Elon International Society, earning its “Outstanding Leader” award earlier this month.

This spring, Phuk was among the most recent cohort inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society. That's not her only academic accolade, as she's also been inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Beta Gamma Sigma, Pi Gamma Mu, Pi Sigma Alpha and Phi Eta Sigma honor societies. She has received the Andras Family Award, a scholarship awarded to a business school student who excelled inside and outside the classroom, as well as the Wells Fargo Scholarship and the Griswold-Watts Scholarship from the Department of Political Science. 

In fall 2015, Phuk was selected to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York. During sessions there, she served on a panel talking about the challenges that Cambodian youth are now facing, and offered potential solutions for the private sector to play a more involved role in the local educational system.

“This was a high-powered group that Barang was interacting with, learning from and speaking to,” said Woody Pelton, dean of global education at Elon, who has worked with Barang in the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center. “It’s has been amazing to work with her and see her develop during her time at Elon. She’s a leader on campus.”

Now facing graduation, she anticipates participating in a one-year internship at the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School before starting work toward her law degree at the school, where she plans to focus on human rights.

But before then, her parents will travel from their home to Jay Pritzker Academy in Tachet Village, where the school will stream Elon’s commencement for them. Because of the 11-hour time difference, the 9:15 a.m. will get underway at 8:15 p.m. local time.

Elon’s previous commencement ceremonies have attracted small international audiences. Last year’s stream of Commencement on elon.edu generated about 7,000 views, with about 500 of those coming from outside the country. The most viewers came from Germany, Mexico and Italy, and none were recorded from Cambodia.

Hoping to join in viewing the live stream at Jay Pritzker Academy is Morgan Drew ’16, now serving with the Peace Corps in Cambodia. Drew met Phuk while a senior at Elon, connecting with her to learn a bit more about Cambodia before traveling there with the Peace Corps.

Phuk is excited for her parents to share in Commencement with her, though says they may not pick up to much from the remarks delivered to Elon’s newest graduates. “My parents won’t be able to understand everything because they don’t speak any English, but they’ll be able to see me graduate,” Phuk says. “And then I can go home, and wear my graduation robe around the village.”

Owen Covington,
5/16/2018 11:20 AM