CSU Voices and Views

The Hope of a Better World

By Punya Droz
Alumna of Sonoma State

Punya Droz

Punya Droz

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.

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  • Felipe Bolivar

    You deserve good things in life. You have worked very hard to get to where you are at. Your CSU family is proud of all you have done. Blessing to you and your family

  • Natalie Shepard

    You were and still are an absolutely amazing student in which I was honored to have you as both my friend and a classmate. Our semesters with one another, and hearing your worldly stories of a monkey piercing your ears for rice, will always be remembered by me. Not only did you contribute with your knowledge in our classes, but you also set an exemplary model for future generations. I wish you the best of luck in your future and have no worries that you will become an awesome educator, like those who taught us at Sonoma State. Thank you again and best of luck in your future!

  • Helen Pitt

    Fantastic Punya. Congratulations. From our days of working in the Ministry in the 90’s in Cambodia and then in the Disability Action Council (DAC) you have always shown initiative, compassion and a willingness to listen and learn. I know that you will go on to share your knowledge and skills. It is an absolute pleasure knowing you and sharing so many experiences
    Helen Pitt

  • Marcia Locatelli


    Congratulations on being acknowledged for all of your hard work. You are a wonderful person who strives to be an exemplary role model. You are so inspiring to me and I am sure to all who know you and even those who don’t. I consider it a privilege to have studied with you and I appreciate how helpful you have always been. If I can ever be of help to you don’t hesitate to call on me. I wish you well on your continued journey.

    Best regards,

  • Sue Holly

    What an amazing woman! You have been an inspiration to so many and without realizing it your have impacted the lives of folks you may never really know. I know that you have been a true blessing in my life and you have added grace, compassion, humor, empathy and understanding to our family. Congratulations, Punya! Now on to the next chapter of your life!! I love you, sister.

  • Anna DeFazio

    It is a pleasure to know you, Punya. You are an inspiration and a bright light shining upon the world!

  • Anonymous

    You are an inspiring model! Love. Annie

  • Anonymous

    To know you is to know excellence. I wish we had more time together, but alas, the journey continues and paths part, hopefully they will come together again. I know you will continue to be an exemplar human being and I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments. Congrats on the award.
    Pam Wood

  • Kerry Thomas

    What a truly fabulous achievement. Punya, on so many levels you are an inspiration. It has been, and remains, an honour to know you – a very special person with compassion, drive, commitment and ability to make a difference in the lives of so many. Your ripples extend far and wide, including Australia! All the best as you, and your family, move into the phases that unfold on the roads ahead.

  • A.Biff

    Punya–Congratulations on your academic achievement, and your determination to be of some service to others. Your family and friends are so proud of you, and that certainly includes U.Don and me.
    I’m going to do a print-out of this for our children, Jonathan and Nancy.

  • Boriana


    I came upon your story via an unrelated search on the EDD website. I am moved and inspired by the courage of your spirit, a grounding example for times when I find myself caught in a whirlwind of self-pity arising from the drama of the sheltered bubble I, and many others, live in. I applaud you for your perseverance and grace, the courage to see your education through despite the fact that your parents were killed for having one! You are clearly a beautiful person. Wishing you all the best on your continuing journey!

  • tania radis

    Hi punya you inspired me 9 years ago when we first met in cambodia and you continue to do so. i am certain rick and sidare extremely proud of u as are the many cambodians you represent. besr wishes to all.

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