MCHS 2014 graduate Amy Nguyen and her mentor, Laura Standard, used to sit together just talking about what Nguyen might do after high school – where she might go to college, what she might study, where she might live.
“We called it college dreaming, and we did it a lot,” Standard said. “I wanted her to know how important education could be to her life – that there was nothing she couldn’t do if she was willing to work for it.”
And work for it she has.
This week Nguyen will become a college freshman at Georgia State University in the heart of Atlanta, where she will study nursing, and where she will begin fulfilling a long held dream.
“I’ve always tried to give her college as a possibility,” Standard said. “She was really struggling in the sixth through ninth grade and I kept talking to her – four more years, three more years, two more years…you can do it. It’s so beautiful to see where she is now.”
It’s been a long and often not so easy road that took a combination of hard work and determination, a lot of help from others and a good bit of “the God thing,” as Standard calls it.
For unlike many recent high school graduates, college was by no means a “given” for 18-year old Nguyen.
In fact, for this daughter of Vietnam and Cambodian refugees, college, or even high school graduation, at one time may have seemed an unlikely prospect.
In fact she will be the first member of her family to attend college – and the weight of that doesn’t sit lightly on her young capable shoulders.
“I hope I am a role model for my siblings,” she said. “I want them to realize, as Ms. Laura has helped me to do, that there is a brighter future out there if they just reach for it.”
Things began to change for Nguyen after she was placed in foster care for a short period of time. Her mother, who was working nights to support the family, had left the 12-year old to care for her much younger brother.
The Department of Family and Children Services stepped in, removing the children from the home temporarily while they worked to help the family. One of the conditions for their return to the home was for Nguyen to have a mentor through the school system.
Standard, who is the special needs preschool coordinator for Madison County Schools, was chosen as her mentor.
Standard says she remembers “everything” about the day she met her mentee, who was a sixth grader at the time.
“I remember what she was wearing, how cute she was, I remember it all,” she said.
Standard and Nguyen hit it off that first day, and Standard has remained her staunchest supporter and cheerleader since that time.
And the years between then and now have not always been easy.
Standard was aware when she first met Nguyen that she engaged in a form of self mutilation called “cutting,” which some teens, particularly young girls, do in an attempt to relieve stress.
Then when Nguyen was in ninth grade, she overdosed on Tylenol in a bid to take her own life.
“I was under so much stress at the time – I felt like I was being pushed over the edge,” she remembers. She said she wants to share what she’s been through – even this experience – as a way to help other young people who are struggling and may have lost hope.
As she recovered in the hospital, Nguyen began to take notice of the medical personnel around her, and to appreciate what they were doing to help her, particularly the nurses. It was that experience that piqued her interest in nursing as a career.
“I don’t regret anything that has happened to me,” Nguyen said. “I am thankful for it all — every bit of it — because it has made me who I am and made me appreciate where I am today…I realize what’s been given to me and I’m not going to waste it.”
Nguyen said she wants to be a “story to others,” one that will help them to know that there is hope.
THE ROAD TO GEORGIA STATE
Nguyen made it through high school – often while holding one, two or even three jobs on the side and paying most of her own expenses. She said her parents helped where they could, but it has not been possible for them to give her much assistance, even though she knows they love her and are proud of her accomplishments.
“I want to do better than they have, and they want it for me,” she said.
Her graduation brought a lot of joy to a lot of people – none more than Standard.
“I feel like I got the prize when I got Amy in my life,” Standard said. “It’s just incredible to see how far she’s come and that it’s (college) happening now, after we’ve talked about it for so long.”
Nguyen received three scholarships from the Madison County School System, the HOPE and PELL grants, along with several other lesser known scholarships, one of them being the NSORO scholarship, available to children who have been in foster care, or who have aged out of the foster care system. Nguyen says she doesn’t think many students know about it. She and Standard found out about it on a tour of Georgia State. The scholarship provided her with a new laptop and $1,000 per semester for expenses, plus other benefits.
Standard said she and Nguyen were engaged in their “college dreaming” one day in her office when she asked Nguyen to name some of the top things she wanted from a college experience. Nguyen said she wanted to go to a public college in a city, that had a nursing program and that had lots of opportunities to become involved in clubs and other activities on campus – something she hadn’t been able to do a lot of in high school.
They looked online, plugging in some of her top “wants” and saw Georgia State.
“I didn’t know when we started this that Georgia State was going to be the perfect place for Amy – but it is,” Standard said.
Nguyen said she is excited because she will be able to walk or ride the bus anywhere she needs to go and will have a number of hospitals to choose from when it comes time to do her clinical training.
And she knows the nursing program will be rigorous, requiring a lot of hard work – something Nguyen is not afraid of.
Standard said she and Nguyen stand amazed at how it has all worked out.
“I know someone besides us is orchestrating this for her,” Standard said.
Nguyen said she has also been amazed at how many people have stepped up to help her and she wants other teens not to be afraid to ask for a hand when they need it.
“We all need help some times,” she said. “Make up your mind on what you want and keep digging, look for it, talk to people, make stuff happen,” she said. “You make your own luck, that’s what Ms. Laura has taught me...and she helped me keep my head on straight.”
Standard was busy this week helping Nguyen pack and assembling all the things she has made and found for her dorm room. She and husband Rick were to drive Nguyen to campus and help her get settled in. It’s a certainty they will visit often.
“We’re friends now that she’s older,” Standard said. “I expect this relationship to be lifelong.”
“Amy asked me once how she could ever repay me,” Standard said.
“Do you remember what I told you?” she asked Nguyen.
“Yeah,” said Nguyen. “You told me to pass it on and be a mentor myself. And that’s what I will do… I want my life to be a way to help others like I’ve been helped.”
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