FIRST IN HIS FAMILY
Primero en su Familia
By Becky Jensen (’93)
Brendan Thammarath (’16) is blazing a trail of many firsts for his family.
The son of hardworking Mexican immigrants, he’s the first generation born in the United States. He’s the first in his family to go to college. He’s the first to study abroad in places like England and Ecuador. And if all goes as planned, Thammarath will be the first in his family to earn a college degree – with honors, no less, and his sights set on medical school.
Thammarath is also the first to admit that life has not been easy.
As a child he grew up in a crowded two-room duplex, sharing bedroom space with his mother in a converted garage. Shortly after he started junior high, his mother moved back to Mexico and he moved in with his grandmother. During his mother’s four-year absence, Thammarath navigated through adolescence the best he could and admits, “… the most difficult thing I experienced was assimilating into a culture distinct from my family’s.” Like many first-generation Americans, Thammarath was caught in the middle between U.S. and Hispanic cultural norms and conflicting loyalties. He wasn’t sure where he belonged.
Thammarath was often reminded of his low social status, and was forced to grow up quickly. As the only fluent English speaker at home, he remembers how it felt to ask his grandmother about her income so he could fill out his own Free and Reduced Lunch application for school. He also worked odd jobs so he could pay the fees to play football – a way to fit in with his peers.
He learned to avoid and reject negative influences, like drugs and gang violence, which were all around him. “I know a lot of people, some close to me, who went down that road,” says Thammarath, who credits school and academics with giving him an outlet and a drive to succeed. He developed his own moral standards to help him follow the path he felt was right. “I made education my guide.”
Going to college was never a gamble in Thammarath’s mind. He always saw it as his ticket to a better life. He would need to take out student loans, earn scholarships, and work multiple jobs to pay for school, but he knew it would be worth the investment.
RIGHT AT HOME
CSU was a good choice for Thammarath. It’s close to his family and friends in Wheat Ridge. The campus is beautiful. And most importantly, the University offers an academically rigorous, yet more affordable, route to the caring healthcare professional he wants to become someday.
Thammarath is currently a dean’s list University Honors Program student majoring in health and exercise science. He’s a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and CSU Premedica club. He tutors CSU student athletes, as well as K-5 at-risk youth through the El Centro Student Services Triunfo program.
During summer breaks – if you can call them breaks – Thammarath works to save money for school and he volunteers for nonprofits like Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity.
The pre-med student doesn’t get involved and give back to build his résumé. He does it because it’s the right thing to do, and Thammarath insists, “It’s a great way to learn from life.”
It seems learning from life is what Thammarath does best. Itching to broaden his world view, and inspired by a summer service-learning program he admired but couldn’t afford, Thammarath and a friend planned their own no-frills independent study abroad in 2014. They bought tickets to Ecuador and shadowed a willing doctor and his staff in five rural health clinics for six weeks. The volunteer experience was profoundly life-changing for Thammarath, who says it called forth “… newfound self-reliance, courage, and robustness out of myself.” When he reflects on his time in Ecuador, he says it encourages him to breach out of his comfort zone and to be open to distant and diverse ideas.
A scholarship opportunity allowed him to participate in a more traditional study abroad in England, where he jumped at the chance to explore other European countries. “You learn a lot about yourself traveling. You get lost. You learn to trust yourself. You learn what you’re made of.”
Thammarath insists that adversity is a blessing in disguise. He’s grateful for every hardship that helped him think creatively and show compassion. Every difficult choice that strengthened his moral compass. Each mistake that taught him humility and the risks that challenged him to persevere.
A HEALING GIFT
As he thought ahead to his final year at CSU, the senior dug deep and mentally prepared himself for the hard work ahead. Because of his background, statistics say he shouldn’t be in college. But Thammarath believes in himself and the power of higher education, and our Ram Family believes in him. For Brendan Thammarath, the CSU Alumni Association’s Metro Denver Scholarship couldn’t have come at a better time. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Thanks to the scholarship, Thammarath is experiencing welcome financial relief this year. He’s able to focus more on his studies and ways to recharge, and less on working multiple back-breaking jobs to pay for tuition.
After graduation, Thammarath would like to eventually work at the new CSU Medical Center slated to open later in 2016. Working at the new facility will give him a chance to explore career options, gain valuable experience before entering medical school, and give back to the campus community that has given him so much. “CSU feels like home. It’s where I belong. I love this place.”
If Brendan Thammarath could thank a scholarship donor, what would he say?
“The Metro Denver Scholarship gives me the peace of mind to focus on my studies. It helps tremendously … more than you will ever know, and I’m so grateful. I can’t wait to give back. Thank you!”