A full-circle story of how difficult circumstances shaped a passionate difference-maker.
While the journey from Cambodia to America was never easy, Daniel Sophara Peou ’97 has allowed his story to shape his passions and influence his desire to make a difference for his students as a principal in the School District of Philadelphia.
At 13 years old, Dan and his family came to America as refugees after surviving a tragic genocide in Cambodia. Enrolling in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) at Horace H. Furness High School, Dan immediately faced many challenges including an inability to speak English, a lack of resources, and an absence of support for refugees as they navigated resettlement.
Dan also noticed that there were very few teachers that looked like him in the district, and none at the school in the administrative level. This realization sparked Dan’s passion to make a difference and be the change he wanted to see in his Philly community.
After graduating high school, Dan worked hard to earn his Bachelor’s in Organizational Management from Eastern, which helped him secure his first teaching position in the SDP. He worked tirelessly to provide support to students who found themselves in similar situations to his own. Throughout his career, Dan held many roles in the SDP, until finally accepting the role as principal of Horace H. Furness, the very same school Dan attended after arriving in America.
“Furness High School has a very diverse student population, with most students’ journeys to America being very similar to my own,” Dan shares. “I make sure that students understand that their past experiences should not hold them back in pursuit of their dreams. I share my life experience with the hope of motivating them to reach their highest potential.”
Eastern played an integral role in preparing Dan for the work he is currently doing with his students. Assistance with public speaking was vital to his continued rise in the education field, especially since Dan was initially fearful of public speaking. “I had a very low self-esteem during my youth, but at Eastern, I discovered a technique that grew my confidence when speaking in public and learned the foundation for my management skills.” Dan’s time at Eastern gave him confidence to engage community stakeholders, support his school community, and provide better access to resources for his students.
Though his time at Eastern was far from easy, Dan was able to see the deeper purpose behind each assignment and how it would connect to the work he desired to do in Philadelphia’s education system.
As Principal, Dan is always using his story to encourage others to pursue their passion, in spite of the many challenges they may face.
“Despite the struggles I went through during my youth, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the community that I love. I am very grateful that I found an educational program at Eastern University that helped me break out of my shell and highlighted my strengths,” Dan reflected.
“If you have a dream, don’t let your past experiences hold you back from achieving your future dream. Keep looking for your strengths, and don’t give up!”