Commencement 2017: URI student learned compassion, caring in childhood

Daughter of Cambodian immigrants earns nursing and thanatology degree

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Davi Prak. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. May 1, 2017 — Davi Prak long had her heart set on being a nurse, so when she graduated from Classical High School in Providence in 2012, she applied to one program: The University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing.

Prak was accepted into the University’s Talent Development Program — for Rhode Island high school graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds — but not the College of Nursing. Disappointed, she reluctantly considered applying to another school.

“I didn’t want to ask my parents to fund another application,” she said. Prak’s parents are Cambodian immigrants who fled their country when the totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime took power in the 1970s and waged genocide. The couple met in the United States, and Prak and her sister were born here.

Then Prak learned that her application had been reviewed, and she was accepted into the nursing program, taking the next step of a journey that began in childhood as she helped her family navigate a strange culture, and which Prak said, coincides with the values of nursing.

“I helped both of them out as well as other family members who immigrated to the USA to escape the Khmer Rouge. It was a heavy load,” she recalled. “My mother always said it was hard to ask me for help because she knows teenagers usually want to go out with their friends, but she appreciates that I always make time to help her and my father. In her opinion, I’m different from normal teenagers,” she said.

In May, Prak realizes her dream when she graduates with a bachelor of science in nursing — the first member of her immediate family to earn a bachelor’s degree — and a minor in thanatology, the study of death and dying.

With the recent death of her grandmother, Prak had the opportunity to call on her training. “I think it helped me understand how our family reacted,” she said. “If I didn’t have that knowledge, I would not have understood what everyone was going through.’

At URI, Prak focused on her academics, taking part in the College’s Pathways to Nursing program, which provides students from underserved populations with support and resources to earn their degrees over five years. Prak made the most of her time, enrolling in the Honors Program and maintaining a strong grade point average.

“I wasn’t a great student in high school. I didn’t try to excel. In college I wanted to change that,” she said.

Prak also worked at a family-run Asian restaurant in Providence, a valuable experience that allowed her to strengthen her Cambodian language skills and learn more about that nation’s culture and values.

In June she and fellow nursing graduate Genesis Santos head to Nashville, Tenn., where they were accepted into Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Nurse Residency Program, a highly competitive support and mentoring experience for new graduates. “I try to surround myself with good people and good advisors,” Prak said.