My Family’s Berkeley Story

March 1, 2022

Although my mom graduated from Cal, her journey there was not easy.

My mother was six years old when the Khmer Rouge came and ripped her and the rest of her family from the happy, mundane lives they knew. Anyone was lucky to survive alone, yet my grandmother ensured that her two daughters would not only survive but stay with her. After experiencing much physical and emotional trauma, they eventually made it to California where my grandma concurrently held three demanding yet low-paying jobs that each paid two dollars an hour earning just enough to send both her daughters to college. Despite just learning English, my mom worked hard through high school, climbing up the academic ranks and eventually making her way to the top of her class and making it into Cal. She later not only graduated from Berkeley but the Southern California School of Optometry as well, achieving her dream of becoming both an optometrist and a business owner.

Growing up hearing about all of the struggles my family and my mom went through, and knowing how limited their privileges were, I was extremely proud of them. And seeing how many more opportunities I had than my mother growing up, I made sure to take advantage of as many of them as possible, participating in everything from jobs to sports to clubs to volunteering; anything you could probably think of, I probably did it. And without that same passion and dedication, I don’t think I would have been able to get into all of the schools that I did. And even though I didn’t initially think that Cal was for me (probably due to the pressure of following my mom’s legacy and visiting the campus so often), touring other universities my junior year of high school and realizing how much more I belonged at Cal, as well as how much happier I was receiving Cal’s letter of admittance, I discovered that I really did want to go to Cal, and how much I thought the campus was meant for me.

Being here, seeing not only people laze around the glade, dogs running everywhere, and the occasional free hug signs on campus; but even more endearingly seeing those same opportunities that my mom had because of Cal being given to everyone around me, and seeing my peers so passionate about their dreams and achieving them during their time at Cal, as well as making unforgettable memories and friends that I know I’ll have for the rest of my life, there’s no place I’d rather be (definitely more than Stanford for sure;)). And being inspired by peers and realizing that I could build my own legacy here, I don’t think I’d be who I am today if I wasn’t here. And because of this, I am more thankful than I could ever express that Berkeley has become such an integral part of our lives (and with my sister applying to universities this year, who knows, maybe the legacy will continue;))). So that’s our Berkeley story 

three people standing together wearing cal gear and smiling

me and my golden-bear family

Author: Josephine Lee

Hello there! My name is Josephine (she/her/hers) and I am currently a 3rd year student majoring in Public Health with a double-minor in Chinese and STEM education through the CalTeach Program, a pre-teaching program for undergraduate students. In terms of extracurriculars, I am a part of CalTeach, American Red Cross (ARC) at Cal, and an intro to cardiology course I co-facilitate with a few of my peers! I also volunteer at a nearby rehabilitation center, and was a part of GBO as an orientation leader (and now mentor as well!).