"During my first year at Baylor, Coach Brewster taught me to tackle 250-pound running backs without breaking my neck, Coach Hubbs never gave me a perfect grade, and Mr. Lockrow gave me my first research paper," recalled David Yann during a speech to a Baylor seventh grade class. "My life was very similar to yours." Except that for David, beginning Baylor literally meant beginning a brand new life.
Born in Cambodia, David and his family escaped the war-torn country after the North Vietnamese invasion in 1979. "We lived a carefree life until the country fell to the Khmer Rouge," he recalls. "My father was a pharmacist, and my mother sold food at a local market. But Pol Pot sought to make Cambodia an agricultural state, and my family was forced into labor camps just outside Battambong, the city in which we lived."
While David's father died in one of the camps, he and his sisters, along with their mother, ultimately fled to Thailand, walking single-file through minefields each night until they reached safety. And there, with the help of the Thrash family in Chattanooga, the Yanns had chance to come to the U.S.
"A teacher at Alpine Crest Elementary encouraged me to consider Baylor," David recalls. "I wasn't sure I could gain admittance, but she encouraged me to believe this was something I could achieve. I was still so nervous that when I received my acceptance letter, I didn't open it for two days.
"The moment we drove through the campus gates, I knew Baylor was a special place," he continues. "I think I've always known, to one degree or another, how blessed I was to attend. I have such a strong appreciation for the school. It really was the place I grew up."
Now a real estate analyst for CBL & Associates in Chattanooga, he still credits his Baylor mentors with helping him develop many of the skills he employs daily. "They helped me learn to make decisions and go with them," he explains. "They encouraged so much that honestly, when I graduated from Baylor, I figured I could do anything."