Special UGRAD Post: Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Dear UGRAD Post,

Now back in Laos, I have some time to reflect upon my six-month experience and everything I have learned in the States both academically and personally. Being a UGRADer, I have had great opportunities to do what I have never done before. UGRAD is the first scholarship that not only valued me for just the academic performance and school participation, but also my volunteer services to the society. As a UGRADer, I have always reminded myself to be more engaged and eager to learn as much as I can-both inside and outside the classroom.

Maniphet 3Being a part of the Civil Right Pilgrimage trip was one of the best experiences during my time in the States. It was a busy 10 days in the South. I was so amazed by the serious and harsh situations that had happened in the South. It was so heartbreaking to realize how hard people had to struggle during the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until this trip that I realized how racism can impact our society as well as the whole world and how big of an issue it really is. I still recognize the first time I heard about this trip from my friend. Little did I know how much of an impact this trip would have on my life. Never before have I felt so much connected to the history. As a direct result, I have gained a clearer vision for my self as a person and realized that I should do something to help change the world and to make sure that these sad things will not happen again in our community.

The tour started from Atlanta (GA), Birmingham (AL), Montgomery (AL), Selma (AL), Gulfport (MS), New Orleans (LA), Little Rock (AK), and ended in Memphis (TN).

Maniphet 2The Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama honors the achievements and memory of those who died in the Civil Rights Movement between the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. We learned about sacrifices and achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, confront facts of contemporary injustices, hear stories of hate crime victims, and examine our own biases.


Maniphet 4In 1955, a 42-year-old African-American seamstress named Rosa Parks engaged in a simple act of civil disobedience that launched a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement. The act of disobedience was refusing to yield her seat on a public bus to a White man. Her quiet courageous act changed America. She is a symbol to all Americans to remain free. It was my great honor standing in the same footsteps (Bus stop) with a woman who contributed to a big part of the movement.

Maniphet 5


On the morning of September 23, 1957, nine Black high school students faced an angry mob of over 1000 Whites protesting integration in front of Central High School. Their sacrifices were an important part to change the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. I was so impressed by their braveness!


Finally, we ended our tour at the National Civil Right Museum. It was located at the Maniphet 1Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The purpose of the museum is to preserve the place where Dr. King has spent his last hours, as well as to preserve his legacy and that of the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.

It was my privilege to have this chance at a valuable experience. I have learned so much as a person, and I know that my life will never be the same. The knowledge and experience I gained, and people I interacted with will live forever inside of me.

Lastly, I would love to say thank you to the U.S. Department of State, World Learning, and the U.S. Embassy in Laos for always being there to support me. Without you, I will not be able to have such a great experience in the States!

– Maniphet Phengsavatdy, Laos, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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