Land O' Lakes High co-salutatorian overcame language barrier to succeed

By Dalia Dangerfield, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, April 14, 2017, 9:24 PM EDT

A Land O'Lakes High School senior who couldn't speak English six years ago is now set to graduate as co-salutatorian of her IB class.

  • Hang Nguyen, 17, moved from Vietman at age 11
  • Parents left home country behind so that Nguyen, siblings could study in America
  • Nguyen accepted to both Yale and Stanford

Hang Nguyen, 17, is a straight-A student. Of late, she's been trying to decide which Ivy League college she'll attend in the Fall.
"I'm between Yale and Stanford," Nguyen said.
It's quite an achievement for the teen, who moved from Vietnam when she was 11 years old, her parents leaving everything so that she and her siblings could study in America.

But Nguyen said it was tough, not being able to speak English.
"I felt like I was an outcast, because I couldn't participate in class," Nguyen said.
That feeling motivated Nguyen to learn the English language faster.

"She just didn't give up," said Land O'Lakes High Career Specialist Stephanie Frane-Colon. "There wasn't a barrier for her. She tackled everything head on. She didn't let something stand in her way."

Now she aces her classes, and translates for her parents. The obstacle slowly turned into an opportunity.
Nguyen shared her story to nearly a dozen colleges this year. At first, she said she wasn't going to apply to the Ivy League schools.
"I didn't have the expectation that I would get in," said Nguyen.
Thinking about her parents' sacrifices, the risks they took, changed her thinking.
"I just thought, 'My mom gave up her life for me," Nguyen said. "'My dad gave up his life for me.' I said, 'Why not just take a risk?' so I took the risk of being denied and I guess the risk paid off."
Nguyen plans to tour both Yale and Stanford later this month. She wants to go so school to become a medical researcher -- a choice inspired in part by her younger brother, who is nonverbal autistic.

Nguyen wants to one day find a permanent treatment to help him.
For the Vietnamese high school senior, the sky is the limit, and she wants others to know they can do it, too, and that no obstacle is too great.