Watch CBS News

Santa Clara woman goes from the family donut shop to law school

Students Rising Above: Emily Taing
Students Rising Above: Emily Taing 04:37

SAN FRANCISCO - KPIX is relaunching our Students Rising Above series with a profile of a young woman who went from working in her family's donut shop to UC Law San Francisco.

CBS News Bay Area is a proud partner with Students Rising Above. The nonprofit was founded by former KPIX anchor Wendy Tokuda. It has helped thousands of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds go to college and even higher education. We are relaunching our series of monthly student profiles where our mission is to tell the stories of young people who, despite their circumstances, have gone on to achieve greatness not only in their academic lives but in their professional lives as well.

Have a cup of tea at home with Emily Taing and you may notice a familiar theme sprinkled around her apartment - donuts.

"It was kind of a joke with my friends in high school and now even in law school to say, 'Oh, we know we're really good friends with Emily when we're sick of donuts,'" she recalled.

Emily is about to begin her second year at UC Law San Francisco. Like many first-generation college students, it's a dream that she once saw as being out of reach. But to understand how she got here, you have to go back to where it all began: behind the counter of her parents' donut shop in Santa Clara.

"I would be at the donut shop, I would play on the cash register to learn math, I'd help fold up boxes, I basically had daily chores. When I was 10 or so my parents actually got a citation for child labor, I'm assuming because someone saw me standing behind the counter. But for so many immigrant families, there's no childcare outside of the kids just coming along."

Emily remembers the shop closing overnight for the first time for her college graduation and for a just few hours for her high school graduation. 

"For my high school graduation, my dad put up a 'be back in fifteen minutes!' sign, because it was so important for him to not close the donut shop for too long."

Donuts aren't just the family business, they are a part of her cultural identity. 

"My father is Cambodian-American, Cambodian-Chinese ethnically. He immigrated as a refugee fleeing the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 to 1979. Coming here, like many others, starting from scratch."

Hard work is part of her DNA, but it wasn't always enough.

"I didn't connect with my first-generation identity until after I graduated college. That's the part that was starkly different in terms of who I knew and who I could ask for help with finding jobs, or finding law schools," she recalled.

Emily credits Students Rising Above and the legal education opportunity program at UC Law San Francisco for helping her navigate higher education.

"We admit students who come from backgrounds that are not traditionally represented within our legal institutions. Emily is one of those students where, as a first-generation student, she really put together not just courage, but talent, commitment, and a real sense of community," said Richard Sakai, Emily's advisor at UC Law San Francisco.

Emily's life is still split between two worlds, helping her family in their donut shop and working to get her law degree. There is no perfect recipe for how to balance it all, but Emily's life path has taught her how to adapt.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.