Former U.N. Ambassador speaks to UW-Whitewater

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Feb. 26, 2014

 

By Michael Riley

 

Sichan Siv escaped Cambodian genocide in 1976 off the back of a truck with his mother’s scarf, an empty bag of rice and $2.

Exactly 13 years to the day, Siv began to serve as deputy assistant to President George H.W. Bush in the White House.  In 2001, after unanimous confirmation by the Senate, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Siv conveyed his “American dream” to more than 70 UW-Whitewater students and faculty on Feb. 18 in the Old Main Ballroom as a part of the Southeast Asian Heritage Lecture Series.

Siv

Sichan Siv

Siv has spoken on numerous college campuses, talking about his international bestselling book “Golden Bones” that documents his life.

“My mother, my sister, my brother and my children were all killed.” Siv said.  “My book took me very long to write because I did not want to relive those painful memories.”

Justin Murphy, president of Whitewater Student Government, welcomed Siv to the stage after listing all the different awards he has won in and out of the private sector.

Co-president of SAO Mai Yia Lee said the opportunity to facilitate a lecture with a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was a humbling experience.

“Listening to someone who is a minority with that kind of perspective, who held such a powerful position, is motivating,” Lee said.  “He gives my organization and all minority students hope that we can do something way bigger in the future.”

Hope is something Siv said his mother told him never to give up.  He said in the lecture that no matter what job he had in his life he always kept hope.

Siv did not know his host family or anyone else when he made it the United States, so he said he worked and worked.

His first job in the United States was picking apples and working in an ice cream shop. After moving to New York, he became a taxi driver before 1986 when he began volunteering in George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign.

He enrolled and graduated from Columbia University’s Master of International Affairs program with a full scholarship.  He also studied at the U.S. Army War College.

“The great thing about America is if you focus on something hard enough and you put your mind to it there is a great chance you will achieve it,” he said.  “I always thought about what I was going to do, not what had happened to me.”

Siv said when you have all the elements, such as faith, family, friends and freedom, you will not only be successful, but you will be happy.

Now living in Texas with his wife, Siv provides global strategic advice and gives motivational speeches around the United States and the world, including the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Presidential Libraries.

Greg Cook, associate vice chancellor of the provost office, said Siv’s story speaks to more students than ever before.

“UW-Whitewater has just over 12,000 students; more than we have ever had,” Cook said at the event.  “That number includes 1,500 minority students; most we have ever had. More than half are first generation college students.”

Junior Jonathan Fera  attended the event and asked questions about Siv’s time working with the different presidents and how the United Nations changed during the War on Terror.

“It’s not everyday you get to ask a man that has worked under two U.S. presidents anything you want,” Fera said. “Being the chair of the UW-Whitewater College Democrats, it’s important to seek knowledge outside of the classroom about the past and current political state of the United States and United Nations.”

Fera also won one of the six books SAO raffled off during the duration of the lecture.

Susan Johnson, assistant dean of student success in the College of Letters and Sciences, said students should challenge themselves in terms of engagement to conclude the event.

“Hopefully, none of us will be jumping off any trucks, and I think we can all be thankful for that fact,” Johnson said.  “I want you all to think where you want to be in 13 years or where you plan to be.  How will your student engagement determine the next 13 years?”