Cambodia native, ETMC volunteer earns valedictorian


Jennifer Mao, an ETMC Tyler Volunteer, spent the first half of her life in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

"Education in Cambodia isn't very good. If you have money you would get better schooling," Miss Mao said.

She and her brothers attended English school in Cambodia where recess was the top priority over learning.

When she was nine years old, Miss Mao and her family relocated to the United States in hopes of better education for the children. Her family moved to Frankston, where they opened up a local donut shop. When she arrived in Texas, she only knew simple phrases, such as "Hello," "How are you?" and "Goodbye." As small child, she said she didn't think much of education and the accomplishments that were possible to achieve with it. Nine years later, she is not only fluent in English, but was recently recognized as this year's valedictorian at Frankston High School.

Mao's favorite subjects included anatomy and physiology and the pharmacy technician program. She participated in National Honor Society, student council, National Art Honor Society, book club, volleyball and was class president. During her senior year, she decided to become a volunteer at ETMC so she could see what it's like to work in the medical field. She works the front desk and also will be trained to help in the emergency department.

"Jennifer is a dependable and responsible volunteer that we have been happy to have serve at ETMC," said Joyce Brown, director of volunteer resources. "We hope she returns to ETMC one day to practice at the hospital."

She will be attending The University of Texas in Austin this fall, studying biology, with the hopes of becoming a medical doctor with specialization in cardiology or gastroenterology.

Both of her brothers attend the University of Houston, with one pursuing a career in petroleum engineering and the other pharmacy.

"I am amazed that I came to America, became valedictorian and can go to one of the top universities in the country - that's really awesome," Miss Mao said.

She quoted Nelson Mandela in her graduation speech to sum up her achievements. "There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. My challenge to you graduates is this: Will you settle for a small life or work for the best life you are capable of living?"

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