The Hilltop community welcomed Jany Deng last night as our 2020 Walter Brown Billingsley '82 speaker. Jany's compelling and often tragic story was shared with a sense of grace and humor that drew in the entire audience.
Opening with an introduction from Jany's longtime-friend and Salisbury alum Jeff Erdmann '81, we were given a brief glimpse of Jany's journey to the United States via a 60 Minutes story about the "Lost Boys of Sudan". Jany then told many stories about his encounters with technology, language, machines, food and more. Each story told with a sense humor and humility that brought to life the extreme lifestyle changes he experienced and the challenges those experiences brought along the way.
When asked by a student to describe what is was that he had within himself to survive the journey Jany simply replied "stubborness". As a child, he went on to explain, there was no magic strength, no single super hero like quality to recognize and call upon. Rather, he had faith in Christianity and a pure stubborn kick that urged him to move forward despite not knowing what was lying ahead. A stubborn will to survive insurmountable odds was the driving force to survive.
Jany's warmth and humor was not only engaging, it stood to create an atmosphere in which students could comfortably ask questions, both serious and fun. This remarkable man told of a story filled with unspeakable tragedies, but what we will remember most is his ability to move beyond the tragedy, embrace human kindness and his desire to effect positive change for refugees around the globe.
Jany, once a "Lost Boy of Sudan", is now in his words, "a Found Man" and Salisbury was fortunate to find him as well.
View the LiveStream of the event here.
Jany Deng was born in 1975 in Jakau, a small town in South Sudan. In 1987 Jany’s life changed forever. Civil war broke out, and he and others began walking out of South Sudan to seek safety. Jany walked more than 2,000 miles toward the border of Ethiopia with nothing to eat or drink.
“I did the best I could to survive walking for four months until I reached a refugee camp where I was resettled and stayed for four years. During the 1991 Ethiopia Civil War, I was forced to flee again, walking another 2,500 miles toward Kenya. While in the Kenyan refugee camp, we became known as ‘The Lost Boys of the Sudan.’ Finally, the United States offered to resettle us to America.”
Jany Deng became a leader in the United States for The Lost Boys of the Sudan, a nonprofit, humanitarian organization. He completed his B.S. degree in Social Work at Arizona State University while working full-time as Program Director growing the mission of The Lost Boys of the Sudan.
Currently, Jany Deng lends his time and talent to The Lost Boys Center for Leadership Development, working with refugee children and young adults. He also serves as the Associate Executive Director of the international nonprofit, The Queen Esther Project, helping with their ambitious agenda to educate and eradicate tyranny and genocide to prevent human suffering.
Jany Deng, pictured above with his daughter, is a dad, a humanitarian, a public speaker/figure, a marathon runner, and a man Arizona is proud to call “their native son.”
About The Walter Brown Billingsley '82 Lecture Series:
Walter Billingsley was a highly respected member of the Class of 1982 and served as president of the School. At graduation, Walt was honored with the Crosby Medal. At Bowdoin College he pursued his love of learning and the outdoors. Walt was a gifted linguist and a ﬁne competitive skier. He loved travel and had a strong interest in Latin America.
In January 1988, Walt Billingsley died in an automobile accident. His classmates wanted to honor his memory and perpetuate his values. They did so with the Walter Billingsley ’82 Memorial Lecture Series. Its purpose is “to expose the Salisbury community to a range of unusual and inspirational individuals speaking on issues of general interest and importance.”
Thanks to gifts from Walt’s friends, classmates and teachers, and to a generous contribution from the Grace L. and Henry Doherty Foundation, this lecture series is an annual event eagerly anticipated by all.
For further information about the Billingsley Lecture Series, to make contributions, or to suggest future speakers, please contact:
Chisholm S. Chandler ’11 (Hon.), P’17, Headmaster
251 Canaan Road