SAUGUS — KIPP Academy’s most recent valedictorian is off to Stanford University this fall. But it wasn’t easy getting her there.
Victoria Chiek graduated from the local charter school last week with the highest grade point average of her class, a weighted total of 4.35. The daughter of Cambodian immigrants applied to 24 universities, with an abundance of acceptance letters from schools such as Williams College, Amherst College, and Georgetown University. The Saugus resident decided on Stanford after it awarded her with the biggest scholarship. She will only have to pay $900 in tuition a year.
“I do have pressure as an Asian child and it’s rough because it’s sort of like my worth is awarded to me by my achievements, and I don’t see that with a lot of my classmates because their families give them unconditional support and praise no matter how well they do,” she said.
Chiek may have ended up exactly where she wanted, but the soon-to-be first generation college student faced many trials during her young scholarly career. She began in Lynn at Harrington Elementary School, but when her family moved to Saugus a year later she graduated from Veterans Memorial Elementary School. Next was Belmonte Middle School where she stayed until seventh grade.
Unhappy with the education she was getting, Chiek put her name in the lottery for the new Pioneer Charter School of Science II that was opening up in Saugus and, after being accepted, she stayed there until the ninth grade. From there, things at the charter school didn’t work out as she hoped, which is when she decided to spend her sophomore year at Saugus High School.
“That was one long year of depressing education and that’s when I went through a very dark spot in my life,” she said. “I feel like the culture was all wrong, you didn’t learn anything in your classes at all, and everybody there was just OK with it.”
Still unhappy with the education she was getting, she spent half the year applying to other schools and getting rejections because it was too deep into the school year. Chiek spent that summer trying to figure out where she would spend her junior year. KIPP Academy in Lynn was her No. 1 choice but she was No. 20 on the waitlist, so three times a week she called the officer of operations at the charter school hoping her waitlist number would go down.
“I found out I got into KIPP the day before school started and it felt amazing because it was my first choice,” said Chiek. “When the officer of operations called me and told me, I started screaming of excitement and she told me it was the highlight of her career because she knew how much I wanted to get in.”
Not only did she face struggles in her education, but within the heavy weight of her family’s history as well. According to Chiek, all of her triumphs are hard to celebrate, especially when she remembers all that her family went through to get her there.
“My family, like my mom, my grandma, and my dad, are survivors of the Cambodian genocide, so that has a lot to do with my life and what I think I should be doing in my life,” said Chiek. “They have crazy stories about how they worked and starved, almost got killed, and many of my family members were wiped out, like my dad’s side is basically gone.”
Chiek’s family made their way to the United States when her mother was only 12 years old. They began their immigration process by heading to the Philippines to assimilate into the American culture. Once that was completed, they were brought to the states with the help of a sponsor who went with them. She may have been born into simpler times here in Boston, but the family stories she heard while growing up will always keep her motivated to do her best.
“I started to realize that I never went through any of this and it is presumptuous of me to claim that part of my family’s history,” she said. “My mom tells me I should be on the streets of Cambodia selling rice cakes and should’ve been poor, but God and fate led me here.”
The soon-to-be Stanford University student will begin her college career as undeclared this fall. Although she enjoyed her philosophy, history, and English classes the most during her young career, all she wants is to study something that will allow her to give back to young students like herself.
“I want to maybe be a diplomat, or get into international law, just something that lets me do something to put things in place for something like that to never happen again,” said Chiek. “I want a job that will help me give someone else a voice.”