CSU Voices and Views

Using Education to Rise from Poverty to Prosperity

Honorable Paul Lo at CSU “Journey to Success,” hosted at Fresno State on May 2.

Honorable Paul Lo at CSU “Journey to Success,” hosted at Fresno State on May 2.

By Paul Lo
Judge, Merced County Superior Court

I was seven years old when my country fell. It was 1975 and communists had just taken over Laos. My family along with thousands of other Hmong families fled to refugee camps in Thailand, which is where we lived until I was eleven.

In 1979, my family and I were admitted into the United States, and it was about that time when education became one of the most important things in my life. We settled in Denver, Colorado and I was placed into the fifth grade not knowing a word of English. I was doing kindergarten-level work in a fifth grade class. Needless to say, the experience of coming here and adjusting was incredibly difficult. I was working from the ground up and needed something to help me rise from poverty to prosperity. Education was and still is my ticket to success.

The one thing that mattered most in our family was for me to pursue an advanced degree. My parents did not have a formal education and struggled because of it. They wanted a better life for me. I was also active in the Hmong community and their support and encouragement to obtain a college degree was crucial in my personal journey to success.

I obtained my bachelor’s degree from UC Davis, pursued my Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law, and in 1994, became the first Hmong person to practice law in California. Today, I am the first judge of Hmong descent in the United States…and this is because of education. I saw what education did for my own life and I truly believe that it’s the key to upward mobility.

When I was invited to Fresno State to tell my story at the “Journey to Success” fair, I was thrilled to speak with youth and encourage them to go to college. It sends such a strong message to the Hmong community and community as a whole that a public university is taking an active interest in encouraging Asian American and Pacific Islander youth to attend college. If one lacks the confidence to be successful, it helps to connect them with role models who care about them and their educational goals. That’s exactly what Journey to Success does. Through workshops and activities where youth get to meet successful college students and educated leaders in the community who they identify with, they know that success is just a college degree away.

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