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Hornets On the Rise
Tranh Pham

Redefine the Possible. A small boat jam-packed with Vietnamese refugees rose and fell among the swells of the Gulf of Thailand. Huddled among them, three-year-old Tranh Pham nestled into her mother’s torso, trying to find comfort against the feeling of seasickness that grew in her stomach.

Image accompanying Pham and her family fled Vietnam 40 years ago as political refugees.

Pham and her family fled Vietnam 40 years ago as political refugees.

Pham, who is now a graduate student a Sacramento State, says one of the things she remembers most from that experience is feeling lost for the first time as she ventured out of the refugee camp in Thailand and headed to America.

Her father was a captain in the South Vietnam Army who fought with Americans. When the war ended, he was placed in a labor camp and, when released, the Vietnamese government prevented his children from being educated.

That meant the future for his children would be a life of manual labor, said Pham, who has two older brothers and one younger sister. My parents both valued education and all that education had done for them. So that’s why they decided to flee Vietnam.

The family eventually settled in Wichita, Kansas, where they were sponsored by Catholic charities. As soon as her parents learned how to drive, the family moved to Stockton, California, and then Sacramento.

My parents did whatever they could to support us, said Pham whose mother was the first woman in her village to be a teacher and whose father was a well-respected military officer in Vietnam. They grew vegetables and sold them at small markets, taught themselves English.

As a Vietnamese refugee growing up in Kansas, Pham says she often felt that she didn’t fit in.

I didn’t look or sound or smell like anyone else, she said. Since then, trying to fit in or belong has been a struggle.

For this reason, Pham has a deep appreciation for Sacramento State's Division of Inclusive Excellence which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and acceptance. At Sacramento State, Pham says she feels accepted as she is—a non-traditional, first-generation student who identifies as Queer.

That statement that says, ‘Redefine the possible’ really rings true to me, she said. Because I didn’t think I could do this and getting here made me feel that anything is possible. Not only is it possible that I can be here, but I can also grow as an individual, as a student, and a member of the campus community.

On-campus, Pham has dedicated herself to ensure that all students feel like they belong and are affirmed. She serves in multiple roles at the University Library, in the Centers for Diversity and Inclusion including the Women’s Resources Center and the PRIDE Center, with Student Counseling and Health Services, for the Associated Student Incorporated, and as a Hornet community member. In 2020, she was nominated for the Sacramento State Women of Influence award and the National Student Employee of the Year Award.

Pham hopes the On the Rise campaign will provide additional philanthropic support to bolster student services within the Office of Student Affairs and other areas of campus so more Sacramento State students find their way and feel supported as they pursue their degrees.

If we want to give everyone a chance to access higher education and achieve the American dream, we have to support student centers like the ones at Sac State, she said. They equalize the educational experience and help students of color, of low economic status, different gender identities, and different races all have access to the same right to knowledge, so they can be part of this great nation. They help affirm that every student belongs.

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