By Punya Droz
Alumna of Sonoma State
It was the darkest chapter of Cambodia’s history. The country of my birth was tearing itself apart and my family was caught in the middle. I lost both parents to the Khmer Rouge genocide of professionals with education and government connections – my mother, who served with the American Red Cross, and father, a member of the military.
As I came to live with my grandmother and aunt, my family continued to be up heaved by war, famine and separation.
Dark times test character and values. It is difficult to describe a world in which a person is targeted and killed because they hold a degree. Yet, my family stayed true to its commitment to education – a value I inherited and passed on to my daughter.
My husband, a U.S. Vietnam veteran, and daughter attended my Sonoma State graduation this May. My daughter and I have spent many evenings sitting together doing homework. She is my inspiration, just as I hope to inspire her.
As many students do, I brought all my life experiences – both good and bad – into the classroom. I have seen many areas of the world, yet deeply value the context that a college education brought to that experience. As a Liberal Studies student, my colleagues and I were presented with the challenges that inhibit a child’s education. Hearing some of the heartbreaking stories of others who have suffered tragedy, I realized that I was not the only one carrying the memories from a dark past.
Sonoma State equipped me with knowledge and skills to help return good to the world to balance evils both present and past.
To be deaf or blind during the Khmer Rouge years was to be condemned to beg or perish. I came to Sonoma State having spent years advocating for the disabled, especially in Cambodia. The university encouraged my efforts and allowed me to earn course credit through a Hesperian Foundation project to prepare, translate and publish educational materials for blind and deaf children.
Education provides the hope of independence for disabled students in Cambodia as well as the hope for a better world for my daughter’s generation. I felt filled with that hope as I crossed the stage as a new Sonoma State graduate.
I am deeply thankful to the faculty for their educational inspiration, effort, and commitment to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.