Phượng Truong didn’t let barriers get in her way of earning a college diploma. Not a war. Not a job. Not married life. Not kids. Only time stood in her way. And even that couldn’t stop her from realizing her lifelong dream.
Truong eventually achieved her goal last spring when she walked with the College of Business Administration graduates in Commencement – 51 years after she started college. At 75 years old, she is the oldest graduate in the department’s history.
“I basically wanted to show whoever has the desire, that you can achieve anything,” said Truong, who needs two more classes this fall before receiving her diploma.
Truong was a college student in her home country of Vietnam when the war escalated in 1965 and was forced to quit to help provide for her family, who lived on a farm. The eldest of eight children, she worked various jobs before becoming an accountant for an electric company. She worked there for 32 years until she retired and moved to the United States in 2007.
“I decided I had the time and I like studying. I liked learning the English language,” said Truong, who became a U.S. citizen in 2012. “I like to study with the young people.”
Boualoy Dayton, assistant director and outreach coordinator in CBA’s Center of Student Success, said Truong’s story is inspirational for not just older Americans, but everyone.
“She never had the chance to return to school after the Vietnam War and did not allow her dream to become reality until she came to the U.S.” Dayton said.
“Although Phuong is much older, the students found inspiration in living out her dream of gaining a college degree.”
Shortly after settling in Garden Grove, Truong took classes at Coastline College and Goldenwest College to complete her Associate of Arts degree before transferring to Long Beach State in 2013. But the trek wasn’t easy; going further meant going farther.
Getting to Long Beach State entailed taking a bus, a two-hour roundtrip that took Truong across county lines and through multiple cities.
Yet, Truong never overslept. She never used the commute as an excuse to be late, and she never missed class despite having to walk from the bus stop on 7th Street to the CBA building.
Kristy Nguyen-Trinh, academic adviser in the Center of Student Success, said Truong took just two classes a semester which extended her academic journey.
“She has such a strong will and strong mind that she can achieve anything in life,” Nguyen-Trinh said, adding that the other CBA students admired her tenacity and perseverance.
“I often would hear other students say ‘She’s my mom’s age and my mom’s not doing this.’ She is an inspiration,” Nguyen-Trinh said.
Truong said she hopes to be a role model for her children and grandchildren. It’s her legacy, she said.
“My children’s friends admire me so much. I read their ideas on Facebook,” Truong said. “I feel I am a great role model for all of them.
“I feel very proud of what I did and have gotten much love from many other people.”
Family members aren’t the only ones amazed by Truong tenacity and determination. Charlie Nguyen, an academic adviser in the CBA’s Center for Student Success, said watching Truong work hard motivated him to do more, perhaps pursue a second master’s degree or doctorate.
“It wasn’t just me, but student workers in our office, would say things like, ‘She makes me want to try harder in school.’ It just inspired me to achieve more,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said the entire advising center took pride in seeing Truong walk in Commencement.
“For me, it was a good feeling,” he said. “I felt like I was a part of that journey. It was mostly her doing, but it felt nice because I was able to contribute to her dream.”