He is the first in his family to graduate from high school, and became a naturalized citizen only last year.
Brian Dong, of Eminence, emigrated from the Fu Zhou province in China with his parents, Mei Chen and Xiao Dong, in 1997. He was just six years old.
“We traveled from place-to-place,” he said. “I went to different schools until I was in fifth grade.”
Dong said his parents worked for family members on farms and in restaurants in New York, Florida, California and Chicago before settling in Eminence in October, 2003. They run Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant on Main Street.
A 2009 Eminence High School graduate, Dong was the school salutatorian this year.
Dong’s list of accomplishments at Eminence High School is impressive.
At an honors ceremony last Thursday, he accepted awards for graduating with highest honors requiring GPA between 3.75-4.00, a Certificate of Advanced Mastery and his membership in the Beta Club.
He received the University of Kentucky’s Provost and Catalyst scholarships as well as scholarships from KEES, the Judy Lea Foundation and the Education Foundation.
It wasn’t all academics for this young man though.
Teacher Lynn Covington said she has known Dong seven years, since the family’s move to Eminence.
“He is pretty diverse,” she said. “He’s always balanced academics, working and extra-curricular activities.”
Dong played varsity football and was active in the gifted/talented program as well as the Agriculture, Latin and Drama clubs.
Covington, who introduced the senior to the EHS graduation crowd Friday night, said that he not only had a full plate at school, but put in long hours at the family business. “He did everything,” she said, “from cooking and waiting tables to busing and washing dishes.”
She said Dong also has helped with the management of the restaurant, paying bills and managing the building. “He has been totally involved,” she said, “and very loyal to his family.”
Still, it was evident that Dong found time to be a kid and goof off with friends. “He has made the time to get it all done,” Covington said, “and still have fun.”
In his salutatory speech, Dong spoke of parties and cook-outs with friends.
Dong never found it difficult to fit in at Eminence schools. “I had friends right off the bat,” he said. “I was welcomed like family.”
Education was of the utmost importance to his parents. “My mom never gave me the chance to let my grades drop below a B,” he said.
His graduation is a momentous occasion for Dong’s family.
“They seem really proud and awed at what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “They have given up so much for my future. Half of this is all for them.”
The senior year at Eminence went by in a kind of blur. “I had so many things going this year,” he said. Add to that an unexpected trip to China that ran long just before the beginning of the school year. “I was late coming back to school after the funeral for my grandfather,” Dong said. “I was a month late because we couldn’t get a flight.”
Covington said one of the qualities Dong exhibited throughout his time at Eminence was an even temper even when things were crazy. “He is so calm,” she said. “I’ve never seen that kid lose his cool. Even when there is chaos all around him, he never gets ruffled.”
In the fall, Dong will head for Lexington and the University of Kentucky.
Covington expects Dong’s departure for college will be difficult for the family, but a five-week stint away from home at Morehead University as a Governor’s Scholar in his junior year may have helped pave the way.
Chen and Dong still have a child at home.
Dong’s younger sister, Jenny Cheng, is a third-grader at Eminence Elementary School. He was asked what Jenny thought of him doing so well in high school.
“She’s always gonna think I’m her stinkin’ big brother,” Dong said.
“He really does epitomize for me the American dream,” Covington said.
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