My name is Jen Nguyen and I am a graduating senior studying Psychology and Sociology at Michigan State University. It was my honor and a privilege to be one of the Co-Executive Directors this past year at the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations Midwest’s, 13th annual Vietnamese Interacting as One Conference (VIA-1).

With VIA-1 being over, I find a part of myself incomplete, empty, or void. I went 7 months straight of talking to 40+ individuals every week if not every couple of days, so it can be a very weird feeling doing something so routinely for a long period of time, and just stopping all of a sudden. Over the course of the conference planning, I went from knowing only a few staff members, to truly connecting with them all on a personal level. It was amazing to see them progress individually as they developed their skills planning the conference, but it was more rewarding to be able to learn from them. I do not think I would have grown in the way I have, if it wasn’t for all these inspiring individuals I get to call my staff. They all rubbed off on me and influenced me in some way to make me a better me today.

Not only did the staff leave a mark on me, but the conference attendees did too. They came to the conference seeking for knowledge and networks to make as young professionals in the world. They sought to learn more about the APIA issues, to learn their strengths and weaknesses, or to find their passion.  Not only did many of them do this, but they also gave me a lot of hope for the future. To see so many individuals so eager to learn and be involved, literally made my heart melt. Their hunger for the opportunity to make a difference was beyond commendable. The way families united over dinner together, and the pride they had for their families, greatly displayed the pride we all have for our community and our heritage. No matter where we come from, it can be learned and enjoyed together.

This picture here, gives a brief glimpse of the phenomenal, indescribable, once in a lifetime relationship I formed with a great love of mine, my Co-Executive Director Tyson Banh. There are literally way too many adorable pictures of us that I have a hard time picking one as my favorite, but this candid one speaks for itself. Tyson and I went from knowing each other as just being individuals who were President of our respective VSAs when we briefly met at the 12th annual VIA-1 held at the Ohio State University. We were then banded together to put together this conference which we called, our baby. And it was truly that, our baby. It was a product of our passion and love for our community and heritage, and our mission to bring together the Midwest along with other talented individuals to see the potential they possess. Through all the hurdles, we made it through together, holding each other every step of the way. He was my rock, I was his shoulder to lean on. I am blessed for the opportunity to find such a profound partner in life.

My biggest reason for the pursuit to have VIA-1 hosted at my school, MSU, was to bring the kind of passion and motivation I witnessed at the previous conference to my own community. I wanted the members of my community at MSU to see what passion, motivation, and collaborative work with others could produce. I wanted to bring them something different and challenging to do. I wanted them to seek for more in life, to seek for more connections, more questions, self-reflection as to who they are, what they can do now, and what the future could be if they wanted to make change in the world. There were many joyous moments where I was able to witness the self-realization these individuals had as they understood how great they can be. For me being a graduating senior, it was not about what events I coordinated that had the most success or how well known I am, it was about what I have shown, taught, or left behind that is going to help the younger generation in their journey to reaching their potential as a leader in the community. About how they will take the community to the next level of achievement in asking that question that pushes boundaries that will make a change for the better. To work tirelessly, and see their efforts come together beautifully in a way that touches many people and even themselves. At what people can do when they come together with a purpose.

I am truly blessed for this experience and all the individuals that have come into my life because of it. I have learned the good and bad of my strengths and weaknesses, and I have learned about who I am, what I can do, and how I can still change in little ways to be more than what I already am. Most importantly, I have learned all the identities I possess with all the different communities and networks that I am in to make me Jen. Even better than that, I know how to utilize this knowledge to inspire, and bring more individuals together in the future.