Graduate works hard for herself and to better the life of her family

Marine Science Magnet High School senior Priscilla Eang Tuesday, May 31, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Marine Science Magnet High School senior Priscilla Eang Tuesday, May 31, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Ten months ago, as a keynote speaker at a convocation of about 400 educators employed by southeastern Connecticut’s regional educational service center LEARN, Priscilla Eang brought the crowd to their feet for a three-minute standing ovation when she finished her talk on what a magnet school education has meant to her.

The oldest of four daughters raised by a single mother who has struggled to keep her family financially secure, Eang, now 18, moved many in the audience to tears when she spoke about her upbringing, education, challenges and the likelihood that she would be the first person ever in her family to attend college.

Magnet schools, she said, had opened doors and opportunities that she otherwise wouldn't have encountered.

"I learned ... how to read and write, how to do basic math, and how to respect people who were different from me," she said. "I learned to value cultural diversity, because in a world of 7 billion people, we aren't that different."

The Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London "made it clear to students at a young age that race, gender or economic status does not define a person, nor does it define what they can achieve," she said. 

"At RMMS, minority students received the same attention as white students. My development as a student was not impeded by the fact that I was a minority student, or by the fact that my parents made about $20,000 a year," she told the educators.

Eang, whose family lives in Groton, went on to say that her classmates never knew the size of her house (she'd moved from apartment to apartment over the years) or that her family didn't have a computer at home.

"They weren't concerned with it, because it didn't affect the Priscilla they knew. I could be who I wanted at school, and excel as much as my more privileged friends could, all because (the magnet school) gave me the tools I needed to do so," Eang said.

Next week, Eang will graduate from the second magnet school she has attended — the Marine Science Magnet High School, where she's serving a third term as class president. 

She's also a member of the National Honor Society, Student School Improvement Committee and Student Council. 

She has sat on hiring committees for staff and leads school tours to aspiring students and their parents as well as other visitors.

Eang, who is Cambodian and Puerto Rican, is taking three Advanced Placement and two Early College Experience classes this semester and has a GPA of 4.3.

She is the first student at the MSMHS to be named Student of the Month by faculty three separate times and is a recipient of the Eugene Atwood Scholarship awarded for academic achievement and exemplary leadership.

She is on the wait list for Dartmouth College, which is her top choice, and, if she is not accepted there, will attend the University of Connecticut on a full scholarship.

"That's something I didn't think was possible, to go to an Ivy League school," she said, adding it is her dream to be accepted, but if not, she is still proud to have been considered.

"She is just an all-around marvelous kid, and next year, the entire school will feel her absence, she will be missed that much," said social studies teacher and Class of 2016 advisor Colleen Hardison. 

"I've been teaching for eight years, and she is an exemplary student. She is so dedicated. So hard working. She is a role model for the school in every sense of the word," Hardison said. "Kids like Priscilla just don't come around very often."

Marine Science Magnet High School Principal Nicholas Spera agreed.

"Freshman year she told me, 'My goal in life is to be successful and to make enough money to help support my family because I know they have struggled so much,' and that for me was amazing, it was a special day for me as a principal," he said.

Spera said Eang, who plans to study psychology and neuroscience, is respected by her peers and school staff.

"No matter what is going on outside of school, she comes in and smiles every day. She's incredibly respectful. She has a poise about her that is beyond her years, and she's been that way all four years," he said.

"I get my drive from my mother," Eang said, explaining that her mother, Stephanie Oliveras, was 16 when she had Eang and has struggled ever since.

"I have gained so much of my life experience from her," she said, "watching her raise the four of us as a single mother. I work so hard so I can have a better life for me, and for her."

a.baldelli@theday.com

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