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Coming to America

Friday, December 16th, 2011

You may remember the story of Lopez Lomong from his time representing the United States at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In addition to competing in track, he also was chosen to carry the American flag as he led the U.S. delegation into the opening ceremony. Today, he reprises his role as standard bearer–but instead of leading fellow Olympians, he will be leading his fellow classmates as they graduate from North Arizona University.

Lomong was born in South Sudan, and was abducted at the age of 6 by militia forces. He escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent the next ten years. There, on a little black and white TV, he watched Michael Johnson run in the 2000 Olympics and decided that he wanted to be an Olympic runner. He was placed with a foster family in the U.S. in 2001, became a U.S. citizen in 2007, and then ran in the Olympics in 2008.

Of this opportunity–and being chosen to be be the American standard bearer–Lomong said at the time: “In America, everyone has a chance to do all these things. You follow the rules […] I feel happy, honored. I’m feeling so blessed to get an opportunity to present the United States of America, to present the United States flag in front of my team.”

In addition to nurturing his love for running, Lomong’s foster family also encouraged his desire for education. As he told the LA Times, “Eleven years ago I didn’t even think anything. I was in a dark moment. I had zero education. Zero alphabet. Zero everything. […] When I came here in 2001 I was introduced to all that, and I said no matter how long it takes I want to be a college graduate. I want to be part of an alumni community so I can tell my story in a different way, so I can go and speak to kids in high school and colleges and tell them how important education is.”

Today, as he once more carries America’s–this time to lead his fellow graduates in the commencement ceremony–Lomong is one more step closer to that goal. As he said, “In America, everyone has a chance to do all these things.”