STORM LAKE, Iowa -- Four summers ago, Cham Deng walked a mile from his home in Storm Lake to Chautauqua Park, which fronts the lake's north shore.
Storm Lake Police Lt. Chris Cole drove by and saw Deng shooting baskets by himself. The two exchanged some waves, then Cole parked and chatted with Deng about basketball.
Noticing that Deng's basketball was half-flat and scuffed, Cole went to a sporting goods store and bought him a new ball. He took it to Deng, who later that day wrote a Facebook post about the interaction.
"It's things like this that make the world spin," Deng said in the post. "I'm tired of hearing people say cops are bad and racist, I'm tired of it.
"You can't judge someone on what others do. I just wanna thank the Storm Lake Police Department and that officer. All I can remember (is) his name was Cole, or that might have been his last name. But I just thank the City of Storm Lake for showing love and the officer who showed love to me and let's pass the peace."
Deng, the youngest of six children born to parents who immigrated from Sudan, will graduate Sunday with a 3.4 grade point average, ranking him 28th in his class of 190 students. After averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game for the Tornadoes his senior year, he plans to play basketball next season for Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where he will study accounting.
Storm Lake Superintendent Stacey Cole, who is married to Chris Cole, said Thursday said Deng that has been a positive influence in the school. She knows his favorite subject is advanced ecology and about his associated work with classmates on a rain garden project, designed to soak in rain water runoff, in Storm Lake.
"Cham is a student that can always be counted on to represent our schools and our community with poise and confidence. He is community-minded and will make every community that he lives in a better place to be," Stacey Cole said.
Deng and his older siblings, who range in age from 20 to 33, are the first generation of their family born in the U.S.. Their parents left civil war-torn Sudan on the African continent in the 1990s.
His parents lived in small villages in the southern portion of Sudan, until the civil war became too intense. They moved to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then to Kenya, then immigrated to the U.S., landing in the Minneapolis area, where some of their friends had settled. The family then briefly lived in California, then moved back to Minneapolis, before coming to Storm Lake for jobs at a Tyson Foods meat plant.
Deng's father moved back to South Sudan several years ago. Cham Deng said his mother, Nyarok Deng, helped the family get through by working a lot of evenings.
"It was definitely tough. I was still pretty young," Deng said of his parents separating.
For the first time since Deng's brother, Yach, graduated from Storm Lake in 2014, all six siblings will be back in Storm Lake as Cham Deng marches across the stage to accept his diploma. A graduation party was planned for Friday and a Saturday evening church service at St. John's Lutheran Church in Storm Lake.
"My Mom wanted to do a church service, because it has been a while since everybody was here," Cham Deng said.
Two siblings live in California, two reside in Maryland and one is in Virginia. The oldest, Chuol, works for search engine giant Google. Nyjuok just completed law school at Howard University, Pel is an entrepreneur at online retail leader Amazon, Yach is a computer technician, and Kuony is a linebacker for the University of California-Berkley football team.
"I am definitely proud. It is something you wouldn't think, from a family of immigrants, to have that much success," Cham Deng said.
Though Deng has liked in Storm Lake, the Buena Vista County seat of about 10,600, he noted his older siblings initially weren't sure they liked "being the new person in town."
"I just feel like everything here is like a big community. Everybody supports everybody, and there is so much culture and heritage out here," Deng said.
By the sixth grade, Deng said he really started enjoying school. "I felt I could do anything with math," he said.
He earned A's in science, math and reading. In advanced ecology, he said he's been gratified to learn about "real-world problems," such as "the clean water crisis in Iowa."
If he could change anything about the the district, he would add coding and computer programming courses.
After Sunday's graduation ceremony, all that's left of Deng's high school career is a final season on the Tornadoes' baseball team as a pitcher and first baseman.
He'll also spent the summer shooting hoops, sometimes with players from Buena Vista University, as he preps for his upcoming role as a 6-foot-4 small forward at Iowa Central.
"A lot of people have helped out with preparing me... At some points, it felt super long, but now I'm realizing I am a senior and graduating, so that is surreal," he said.