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Former adult school student honored for giving back

Posted on 06/12/2015

by Austin Walsh,
San Mateo Daily Journal External link opens in new window or tab

Lou Mak
Tom Jung/Daily Journal
Lou Mak is greeted by well-wishers at the San Mateo Adult School during a celebration to honor his volunteerism and pending move for an employment opportunity.

A former student is taking the lessons and opportunities offered to him at the San Mateo Adult School and going on to begin a new chapter of his life, overcoming myriad challenges placed in his path along the way.

Lou Mak, a 40-year-old Chinese immigrant, will soon move from his home in Elk Grove to Sidney, Montana, where he will take an engineering job at a construction firm.

Mak, who suffers from a variety of physical ailments which have cost him the function of most of his limbs and permanently bound him to a wheelchair, was celebrated on Friday, May 5, when school officials mounted a plaque on the campus to honor his volunteerism.

He studied at the school for three years while living in San Mateo, where he honed his English speaking skills and made an impression on teachers and fellow students, who were uniformly impressed by his indomitable spirit and unwavering optimism.

Larry Teshara, director of the adult school, said Mak has served as a model for students struggling to cope with the hurdles associated with assimilating into a new culture.

"He's just been an inspiration, and we are going to miss him," he said. "But this is an amazing opportunity."

Mak said he is thrilled for the chance to use the skills he has learned in taking AutoCAD design courses to work as an engineer at a construction company.

"It's so exciting for me," he said.

As Mak, his sister and mother pack up to move to Montana, they will take a van which has been renovated to be wheelchair accessible.

He credits the van for giving him a new lease on freedom, which he was not previously afforded when forced to rely on other transportation services to take him to school, or recreational areas such as beaches and shopping centers that he enjoys to frequent during his leisure time.

"If you take public transportation, you can't go out of the area," he said. "Now I can go anywhere."

Jay Finkelstein, a teacher at the adult school who aided in renovating Mak's van, said he is proud to assist his former student in pursuing a new opportunity.

"No one is more deserving," he said. "No one has been more generous in terms of sharing his abilities."

Finkelstein said Mak served an invaluable role in helping fellow students, most who also learned English as a second language, understand how to run essential computer functions such as word processing and slide show programs.

"He is such an encouragement," said Finkelstein.

Mak said he appreciated all the assistance that the school and its staff has offered him, and that served as his inspiration to give back.

"I volunteer to help people because I have received a lot of help," he said.

As he leaves the area, Mak said he will always have a profound appreciation for the adult school.

"This school is my favorite," he said. "Everyone is from a different country, but we are all learning together."

The adult school helped him transform from being overwhelmed by the challenges associated with a language barrier and physical impediment to being prepared to take on a new career in a new city, said Mak.

He encouraged others at the school to look toward his propensity for curiosity as a model of getting acclimated to a new culture.

"A lot of immigrants have quite a lot of problems," he said. "But don't be afraid to ask questions."

Mak said he has extensive history coping with the inquisitive nature of people, as for years he dealt with people gawking at him.

"It's not been easy, everybody looks at me because I'm different," he said. "But it's OK, because everyone who is different is interesting."

Finkelstein said he has no doubt Mak will be successful in his future endeavors, thanks to his relentless optimism.

"He's a good guy and he's positive," he said. "He rolls with the punches."

This article was originally published in the San Mateo Daily Journal External link opens in new window or tab and was written by reporter Austin Walsh. The photo is by Tom Jung. Reprinted with permission.