Dr. Danny Nguyen’s Long Journey
It’s easy to see Danny Nguyen as the sum of his successes — a vice president of Administrative Services at Mission College, a former dean of the Academic Support Center, and a leader in his community. Learn about his story, however, and you’ll find the journey of a man who was faced with adversity, desperately trying to find his place in the world.
Fleeing with his family to the U.S.
As Danny himself said, “I am a refugee from Vietnam and part of the thousands of ‘boat people’ who fled the oppression of the communist regime in search of a better life. After spending months at a Malaysian camp, I arrived in the U.S. at the age of four along with my parents, four siblings, and one yellow suitcase.” And thus started the journey of a man who could never quite get a firm hold on his life.
Despite Danny’s best efforts, trying to be someone he wasn’t didn’t come naturally to him. Whether it was shedding his refugee status, living up to his name — Dũng, meaning bravery — or playing catch-up by enrolling in programs that exposed him to American culture, he was trying to live a life not his own. In his own words, “Do you know that tired trope of the poor kid thrust into high society? That’s what it felt like — yet another culture that I didn’t belong to.”
Struggling with expectations
Being ‘Vietnamese in America’ meant trying to live up to two conflicting versions of himself. His brother, by contrast, had acclimated to his new life seamlessly. The weight of comparison, whether with his brother or the number of doctors, lawyers, or engineers who came before him, were shackles that kept him from seeing what he wanted as he entered college.
As his college life began and given his tumultuous high school experience, Danny never truly believed he deserved to attend university. Constantly having one foot out the door, he cut corners by taking fewer classes, not buying textbooks and parking permits, and all but forgoing socializing for assembling electronics and delivering pizza. The result? He was placed on academic disqualification, and his time at university was holding on by a string.
One small success
Where so many in his life up to that point would have let him fail, one instructor at Mission College changed the trajectory of his life. Danny had enrolled in a summer public speaking class during his academic probation period, and his instructor took the time to learn about him. With each victory in that class, he learned to accept criticism, overcome fear, and build his confidence. He felt seen, he felt like he belonged, and he finally had a direction, but then tragedy struck.
Right before starting pharmacy school, Danny lost his brother to suicide. For someone who had just started to find himself and his place in the world, Danny’s sense of duty and responsibility to his family nearly drew him away. What he came to realize from the support of those around him was that the best way to honor his brother was to not take life for granted, and to see his educational goals through to the end.
Honoring his brother
From one of the most arduous times in his life, Danny came away with a renewed strength that pushed him to become a man that his brother would be proud of. That’s not to say that the road he traveled from that point on was a one-way trip to pharmacy school — quite the contrary. Although Danny found success in pharmacy school, whenever his life spiraled in different directions, all roads led back to education.
Danny says, “I have reinvented myself many times over by learning from my failures and re-routing myself onto new paths towards my goals. My journey included the many typical educational paths: that of the immigrant student fighting to assimilate, the disgruntled student rebelling against cultural pressures and expectations, the driven student pursuing education as a means to a better life, and the lifelong student seeking continued career and personal growth. It doesn’t matter which path you are on and how you get there. Choose education, work hard, believe in yourself, and you will get there.”
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