2015 Valedictorian Says Liberal Arts Focus Borne of Parents Vietnam Experience

Twenty-two-year-old Andrew Nguyen, an outstanding student in the College’s Integral Program, has been selected as the valedictorian for the 2015 graduating class at Saint Mary's College. Nguyen is also the winner of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Award, the Program’s highest academic honor. 

Andrew Nguyen, Valedictorian, Class of 2015The Integral Program is often described as a College-within-the-College, where a small cohort of students pursue a four-year interdisciplinary course of study of original texts by the world’s greatest philosophers, historians, mathematicians, poets, scientists, and theologians. The program is one of a half-dozen similar liberal education programs at universities across the nation.

Nguyen will deliver his valedictory speech before more than 700 students during the College's 2015 undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. in Saint Mary's SMC Stadium, 1928 St. Mary's Road, Moraga, Calif. 94556. 

Award-winning journalist Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC political analysis news program “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” is the featured commencement speaker.

Nguyen says his pursuit of a liberal education major that focuses on the study of classic texts was, in part, influenced by his parents experience of coming to the United States as refugees from the Vietnam war.

“Access to the liberal arts is important. But, so is the ability to discover your voice, in a way that you are liberated to freely think on your own. You’re not limited by what texts are available. Here there is no censorship, like there may be in Vietnam,” he said. Nguyen says he is extremely grateful for the opportunities he’s received as a result of the immigrant journey of his parents, who made their way to the Bay Area after leaving Vietnam.

Additionally, he expressed appreciation for his parents allowing him to pursue a classical liberal arts focus. “A common desire for some immigrant families is for their children to have a better life through careers such as medicine, engineering, or business,” he said. “However an education in the liberal arts provides a different way into a better life, one that allows for a liberated mind. My parents understood that and I can’t thank them enough. “

Nguyen admits he had to find his footing, like many students, once he arrived at the College. Changing his major from sociology to the Integral Program was part of that process. In his valedictorian application he wrote about pushing past initial hesitancy because the program didn’t appear to be a road to a practical degree. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I not be a scholar?’ Thinking of the line from Plato’s “Apology” ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ it was the best decision of my life.“

Nguyen, who was raised in Milpitas, flourished at the College, serving as the chief photographer for Saint Mary’s student newspaper, The Collegian, a three-year resident advisor, co-chair of Asian Cultural Night in the College’s Intercultural Center, supervisor of an after-school tutoring program for high school students in Oakland, and interning for the American Red Cross in Denver.

In order to be selected as valedictorian, a Saint Mary's senior must have a cumulative grade point average over 3.75, submit an application including a resume, essay, a list of involvement in student and academic and government clubs, athletic teams, and any awards and honors. Fifty-three students in the 2015 graduating class had qualifying GPAs and 22 sent in applications. A selection committee, comprised of students, faculty, and administrators, also reviewed essays by candidates explaining why they wanted to be the valedictorian and what the College's Catholic and Lasallian mission and liberal arts traditions have meant to them as a student.

Richard Carp, Saint Mary's vice provost for undergraduate academics, said Nguyen’s selection as the 2015 valedictorian “acknowledges his academic excellence and exemplifies the College's liberal arts tradition, its mission of faith and service, and commitment to a transformative educational experience.”

Director of the Integral Program and Philosophy Professor Steve Cortright described Nguyen as an individual of enormous intelligence and personal charity. He added, “Andrew knows what it means to overcome the worst poverty, ignorance. He is a remarkable scholar and will make a remarkable teacher.”

Nguyen is planning on a career in education, an interest rooted in his Saint Mary’s experience and a family tradition of teaching—his grandfather founded a school in Saigon. Nguyen begins a graduate teaching program with the University of Notre Dame this summer.


Michael McAlpin, Director of Media Relations
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About SMC
The Saint Mary’s College of California experience inspires learning that lasts a lifetime. For more than 150 years, the College has provided students with a rigorous education that engages their intellect and spirit, and awakens a desire to transform society. Guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church’s oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching, the College enrolls more than 4, 200 students in undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and business programs. For more information visit Saint Mary’s College at stmarys-ca.edu and just 23 miles east of San Francisco.