A Lincoln High School graduate who survived genocide in Cambodia before arriving in Nebraska has published a memoir about her experience - a harrowing tale that spans from an early childhood spent starving and separated from her family, to a career as an engineer in the aerospace and biotech industries.
Channy Laux spent two years at Lincoln High and graduated in 1982. During a visit to LHS on Tuesday, she grew emotional as she shared memories of the school with a roomful of students who, like her more than 35 years ago, are part of the English Language Learners (ELL) program.
“It’s special to share this with you - to a school that shared so much with me,” said Laux, who now lives in California.
She recalled arriving in Lincoln after fleeing Cambodia, where the brutal Khmer Rouge regime seized control in the mid-1970s. She and her family endured starvation, horrendous working conditions, illness and extended time apart. Laux details her childhood in Cambodia and the life that followed in her new book, “Short Hair Detention.” As part of her visit to LHS, five copies of the book were donated to the school’s library.
Laux spoke no English when she enrolled at LHS. There were plenty of moments when she believed she would never graduate. She thanked her counselors and teachers - some of whom were in the audience Tuesday - for their persistence.
“They had their own, different agenda - they were going to make sure this girl finished high school,” Laux said.
Before visiting LHS Tuesday, she stopped by the apartment where her family lived, at 14th and F streets. Every school day, she walked from their apartment to LHS. In the winter, she cut through the Capitol on her way so she could warm up. She still remembers staring up at that building shortly after arriving in Lincoln.
“It was my Statue of Liberty, my Ellis Island,” Laux said.
After graduating from LHS, Laux went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s in Applied Mathematics from Santa Clara University. She worked for many years as an engineer in Silicon Valley, designing satellite systems and cockpits for F-16 and F-22 fighter jets.
On Tuesday, Laux encouraged the ELL students in attendance to not allow language to be the barrier that holds them back. “I still don’t speak perfect English. It’s great if we do speak perfect English, but don’t let that slow you down.”
Published: December 20, 2017, Updated: December 20, 2017