Growing up as the child of an immigrant from Belarus and a Vietnamese refugee, Gabby Le said she never felt like she totally fit in with either group. When she came to Palomar College, she found a community that supported her and allowed her to blossom and thrive.
Le will be the valedictorian at Palomar College’s commencement being held May 26.
“Although I have achieved a lot at Palomar, I could not have done it without the community-centric and empathy-focused mindset that Palomar adopts in their effort to support students from all walks of life,” she wrote in her application.
Le, a Rancho Bernardo resident, said her mother’s family came to the United States in the 1970s to escape religious persecution in Belarus. Her father’s family fled Vietnam after the war ended there. The two met at the University of Michigan, where both were attending pharmacy school.
She described how her parents learned to embrace each other’s culture.
“Both my grandmothers are cooks. You would think that potato latkes and blanches would clash with the deep stewed-over flavor of pho. It doesn’t,” she wrote. “My parents laugh in the kitchen when they try to recreate my grandmas’ cooking. They can’t do it very well, but the joyful trading of Russian and Vietnamese swear words became the only words that I know.”
Le said that with her biracial identity, she had difficulty fitting in with Asian children, but didn’t feel that she was considered a white person either. Despite those challenges, she embraces her life story.
“I wouldn’t trade it for any other identity,” she said. “It’s great to have these two really amazing stories and being inspired by that.”
Le said she came to Palomar College because of its low cost compared to a four-year university. As a Promise student, she was not required to pay tuition at Palomar College.
She has been active on campus, serving as president of the Gender Women’s Studies Club. She co-founded a club called That’s On Period, which has the goal of alleviating menstruation stigma and providing pads and tampons to women who can’t afford them. She also served as editor of Bravura, Palomar College’s literary magazine, and a piece that she wrote is appearing in its latest edition.
As an English major, Le had effusive praise for the department faculty members, especially Professor Leanne Maunu. In Spring 2022, she received the Betty White and Richard Norlin English Department scholarship.
“I absolutely love Palomar’s English department. They are amazing,” she said. “They are really supportive and brilliant professors who had so much time to give me.”
Le will be transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, where she plans to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degree. She hopes to work in education as a teacher or administrator who can help to transform the education system.