Sevly Snguon’s Incredible Story of Perseverance

“My mother did not survive the Khmer Rouge for me to be weak.” – Sevly Snguon

When I took on the role of managing editor for the Haas Blog, I wanted to convey not only the priceless experiences that we share as Business majors, but celebrate as well, the successes of some of Haas’s most perseverant students; those who have persisted in the pursuit of their dreams despite having faced tremendous adversity.

While there are many Haas students with unique stories to tell, this one is about Sevly Snguon, a truly inspirational character in the personal, professional, and academic aspects of his life. He is currently Haas’s only representative in the ASUC Senate for the school year 2013-2014 and the second of his ethnicity to serve on the student government in Cal history. Sevly is also a first generation college student and is one of only eight Cambodian Americans that entered UC Berkeley’s Class of 2014. 

When chatting with Sevly, one would never expect the intensity of his circumstances and the hardships he had to go through. Sevly, or “Silver-Lee” as he always animatedly pronounces his name, would never fail to make people gleam with smiles and laughter whenever they engage in conversation with him. However, his positive attitude and determination for progress can be attributed greatly to the struggles his parents had to surmount to bring their family to America.

Sevly’s parents were refugees from the Khmer Rouge killing fields at the Cambodian border. He was born and raised  to a low-income community filled with gangs and violence in Long Beach, California. Although succumbing to gang lifestyles was the easy thing to do, he chose the route of higher education. Growing up, his drive to overcome the obstacles of poverty had always been his mother. Sevly’s mother is on disability; suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the labor camps, diabetes, and other chronic sicknesses. Whereas his father had been unsupportive, blaming Sevly for his mother’s illnesses as it was after his birth that the medical complications began. He is the youngest of four siblings. Nonetheless, his relationship with his father and the health conditions of his mother have only cultivated him to become an independent person at a very young age.

When he was seven, Sevly attended doctor appointments with his mother to translate and help her voice her needs amidst America’s complex health care system. Although it is unusual to see a kid be an adult and take on such a heavy task so reliably, Sevly had always willingly done so for the sake of his mother.

Sevly continued to battle privations for his family as time passed. He has been supporting himself financially since the age of twelve; where he jokingly tells me he had started selling Pokemon cards to his friends and classmates.

High school was especially tough for Sevly.  His older brother and sisters were out on their own trying to finish college, while his father was never home, leaving Sevly to make ends meet.

Consequently, he also sold candy every couple of weeks, purchasing them from 99-cent stores and selling them for a profit. He would use the cash he earned to buy food for his mother, though he would always tell his mom that they were from events at school. These were the best he could do as he could not have a job due to potential interferences with the welfare the Snguons received from the government.

His tenacity and diligence finally paid off when he was offered admission into UC Berkeley in 2010. The sense of leadership and responsibility that he developed throughout his personal life had paved the way for him to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship as well; which at least alleviated some of the financial burden of attending college.

Unfortunately, his second semester at Cal proved immensely challenging for him, it even reached a point where he contemplated withdrawing from school. He had learned that his mother was diagnosed with glaucoma and is expected to go blind. But just as he persevered in the past, he was steadfast yet again in attempting to assuage his mom’s condition.

As a full-time student, Sevly took on multiple jobs to provide glasses that doctors recommended to protect his mother’s eyes. His first paycheck from his first job went to just that. Even though his mother insisted that Sevly focused on his education and not work, Sevly did so anyway out of love for his mother.

Sevly is currently a fourth year at the Haas School of Business and double majoring in Public Health.  He aspires to work in health administration where he wants to promote more effective health access to underrepresented and marginalized communities. As someone who understands the plights of poverty and underrepresented minorities, he aspires to make a difference in the Asian Pacific Islander and Haas communities. Presently, he is hoping to create an open-mic event for Haas students, alumni, and faculty and staff; where participants can showcase talents that demonstrate a kind of “beyond yourself” culture—that Haas is more than just business.

He was also awarded the HULA Scholarship last year, for his outstanding leadership as the REACH!’s executive director, an organization that seeks to empower immigrant, refugee and under-served Asian/Pacific Islanders, as well as for his role as an Upward Bound instructor to empower immigrant, refugee and under-served Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Sevly defines that his strength comes from his mother.  “My mother fought many battles with her health, only to live on and see me succeed.  I have witnessed many moments where I thought my mom would breathe her last breath.  Yet I continue to look at the strong mother who dodged bullets during the Cambodian Genocide, survived labor camps, and faced forced displacement onto U.S. Soil while struggling to raise a family.  Her strength is what fuels me with power and is my constant reminder of why I am here.”

I feel truly blessed to be friends with such a powerful individual. Whatever path Sevly takes after college, I am more than certain that he will be successful. His experiences has proved that he is resourceful, resolute, and one who takes initiative. There is no doubt that Sevly is prepared for any impediments that may come his way.  I look forward to seeing the greater highs that Sevly will achieve in his life.

“My mother did not survive the Khmer Rouge for me to be weak.” – Sevly Snguon

Denice Sy
Class of 2014

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