Vols Knock Off Florida Gators, 38-33, To Start Season 4-0

Journey From The Past: Serretta Malaikham’s Look Back Brings Her Forward

Friday, August 12, 2022 - by Shawn Ryan, UTC

Serretta Malaikham remembers sitting in the backseat of a car. She remembers “yelling and bodies falling.”

That’s all she remembers about the day her father shot her mother and uncle just outside the car, killing them both. He later took his own life.

“I think my brain has really tried to push a lot of that out. I think I grew accustomed to hating talking about it,” said Ms. Malaikham, who was three years old when the incident occurred.

A May 2022 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication from UTC, Ms. Malaikham has started talking about it—a decision that began with a project she completed for Rising Rock, the storytelling class that features pieces written, photographed, videotaped and broadcast by UTC students.

In her project, “Journey to Freedom,” she documented the dangerous and terrifying journey her grandparents— Ms. Manichanh and Khampoon Sonexayarath—made when they fled their home in the Southeastern Asian country of Laos during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong were killing anyone they said was disobeying their orders or they thought might be collaborating with the U.S.

“I thought I was going to die. I didn’t think I was going to become a person. They were killing everyone from left to right,” Ms. Manichanh said in “Journey to Freedom.”

Her family eventually made it to Nashville, where they still live. After the death of her birth parents, Ms. Malaikham’s grandparents adopted her. She now calls them Mom and Dad.

Her birth mother was the daughter of Manichanh, but the family never talked about the details of her death. She said she doesn’t remember anything clearly about her birth parents and knows what they look like only through photographs.

Her grandparents don’t even know she’s now talking about the killings at all, she admitted hesitantly with a slightly embarrassed smile.

“This is actually the first time I’ve decided to be kind of upfront about my story just because I don’t like the whole pity feeling whenever I tell people what happened in my life,” Ms. Malaikham said.

“I don’t let that story define me and I don’t want that to be a part of who I am because I’m way more than just what happened to me when I was three.”

She credits the bravery of telling the details of the deaths to Billy Weeks, creator and director of Rising Rock. After she finished “Journey to Freedom,” he insisted there had to be more to her grandparents’ story.

“He said, ‘It wasn’t just rainbows and sunshine as soon as they got to America.’ So then we just had a whole heart-to-heart, and I opened up to him.

“He was honestly the reason why I decided to push more with the story because he was like, ‘You shouldn’t let your mom’s legacy die with you. She deserves to be honored, too.’”

Mr. Weeks described her ability to tell stories with photographs as “simply amazing.”

“Her images are always technically sound with beautiful composition, but what her images do best are tell stories. I always feel like I know the people in each of her photographs,” he said.

“Serretta has been able to bring that same kind of compassion to her other communication skills like writing and audio.”

She combines those skills in “Journey to Freedom” Mr. Weeks said.

“This story is a great example of Serretta’s communication skills and it leaves me with a lasting description.”

She had never asked her grandparents about their personal story until her Rising Rock project was due in about a week, she said. Sitting in their car in their driveway and listening to her grandmother talk gave Ms. Malaikham more than just a finished assignment.

“I was so more empathizing with how she was feeling in those moments of escaping,” Ms. Malaikham said. “My mom has extreme anxiety, and now it makes so much sense why she does.

“You know growing up, mom/ daughter relationships are always kind of rocky. This actually made us a lot closer.”

This is an updated version of a story that first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Magazine.



Lee Students Gain Experience Through Summer Internships In D.C.

Lee University To Host Graduate Panels

“Influence, Faith And Reason” Symposium To Take Place At Lee Oct. 7-8


Lee University students Zadie Fiveash, Brandon Newell, and Macy Petty have returned from Washington D.C. after completing unique internships in their respective fields. “This summer several ... (click for more)

Lee’s McNair Scholars Program will host a Graduate Student Panel on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. and a Graduate Dean Panel on Friday, Sept. 30, at 3:30 p.m. Each panel will take place virtually, feature ... (click for more)

Lee University will host “Influence, Faith, and Reason: People of Faith in the Liberal Arts, as Public Intellectuals,” a two-day symposium on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7-8. The event will be ... (click for more)



Student Scene

Lee Students Gain Experience Through Summer Internships In D.C.

Lee University students Zadie Fiveash, Brandon Newell, and Macy Petty have returned from Washington D.C. after completing unique internships in their respective fields. “This summer several students from the political science department, relying on their own ambition and determination, found some wonderful internship opportunities," said Dr. Mark Scully, assistant professor of ... (click for more)

Lee University To Host Graduate Panels

Lee’s McNair Scholars Program will host a Graduate Student Panel on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. and a Graduate Dean Panel on Friday, Sept. 30, at 3:30 p.m. Each panel will take place virtually, feature three panelists, and cover topics such as general graduate school application process, available funding for specific programs, graduate school life hacks, “a day in the life” of a graduate ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Over 1,600 Athletes Take Part In Chattanooga Ironman 2022; Drew Jordan, Amy Corrigan Take 1st Place

Over 1,600 athletes took part in the 2022 Little Debbie IRONMAN Chattanooga on Sunday. The athletes kicked off their IRONMAN journey, beginning with a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River before taking on a 112-mile ride through the hills of North Georgia and a 26.2-mile run around historic Chattanooga with an unforgettable finish down Riverfront Parkway along the Tennessee River. ... (click for more)

2-Year-Old In Critical Condition After Being Found Unresponsive In Neighbor's Pool In Bradley County

A two-year old child is in critical condition after being found in a neighbor's pool Sunday afternoon. The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Bradley County EMS and Bradley County Fire and Rescue were dispatched at 1:18 p.m. to an address on Burnt Ridge Drive, Charleston, in reference to a possible drowning. The call came when neighbors discovered an unresponsive child ... (click for more)

Opinion

What Lessons Are We Teaching Our Students? - And Response

A parent spanks their kid in the year 2022 and gets CPS and the police called on them. A cop body slams a child by his dreadlocks and maces him at his school and most people cheer it on as teaching him a lesson by disciplining him. What lesson are we teaching our kids? That violence solves problems? That talking back to authority figures is a crime? The kid never put his ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: MTSU's Biggest Win Ever

There are those among us who believe Tennessee’s 38-33 win over Florida was the biggest win in the South on Saturday but, ah, that’s because they still don’t know that “little” Middle Tennessee State, a 25-point underdog to nationally ranked Miami, just clobbered the proud-and-might Hurricanes in a far-better football game. That’s right, MTSU clobbered No. 25 Miami, 45-31, Saturday ... (click for more)