Skip to content


(Excerpt from The Pride of The Vietnamese, Vol III, Trong Minh, 1996)

During his 5 years under the communist rule, the boy named Truong Nguyen Thanh was acigarette peddler at the Go Vap bus station, buffalo boy, grass cutter, ploughman ... at Lai Thieu, Binh Duong, to help his mother raise a family of 9 children and a hemiplegic father.

In 1980, together with his younger brother, Truong Hanh Phi, 14, and a cousin, 13, they fled Viet Nam by boat. In their five days on the tossing waves, they lost their cousin in a storm and were rescued by a U.S. Long Beach battle ship. Thanh and his brother were later sponsored by a Minnesota farmer, came to live with his family and attended high school there.

As Thanh could not read and write English, his year in high school was a terrible ordeal. However his efforts helped him complete his secondary education. He then attended the North Dakota State University and earned his B.S. with honor in Chemistry in 1985, with minors in Math, Computer, Physics and Statistics.

He was accepted to pursue his post-graduate studies at many famous schools such as California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, ... but he chose the University of Minnesota to study under the guidance of Professor Donald Truhlar, a worldwide renowned scientist, and received his Ph. D. in Theoritical Chemistry in 1990.

Dr. Thanh was selected by the National Science Foundation as one of the brightest young Ph. D.'s to receive a prestigious post-doctoral fellowship. He spent two years doing post doctoral research at the University of Houston under the guidance of Professor Audrew McCammon, a worldwide reputed biophysicist.

In 1992, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at University of Utah.

In 1993, Dr. Thanh was selected as one of the U.S. most promising young scientists. Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Sunday, December 19, 1993, revealed that Thanh and two other researchers from University of Utah have been chosen over 169 young scientists to receive a substantial sum of money from the National Science Foundation to continue their reasearch programs. Thanh will get a maximum of 100,000 dollars each year, in five years, to achieve his research on chemical reactions affecting living creatures.

Dr. Thanh is also one of the founders of the Vietnamese Association in Utah and teaches English to young Vietnamese newly settled in Utah, according to The Salt Lake Tribune News, Wednesday, June 9, 1993 issue. This newspaper also revealed Dr. Thanh's contribution to the Vietnamese community, viewed him as a good example for Vietnamese new comers. He is presently Vice-chairman of the Asian Association in Utah. He always wishes that Vietnamese youths don't have to experience the hardships he has borne on his way to success.

Truong Nguyen Thanh's Confidence:

He is not a genius, but how did this cigarette peddler, buffalo-boy, ploughman turn into one of the United States most promising scientists?

What motives have thus incited him to overcome all the hardships and temptations he encountered on his way from a miserable life to an honorable one.

Success is a journey full of humiliations, perspiration and tears

A famous saying goes: "Conceal what is bad and display what is good." The humiliations Thanh experienced should be kept secret. Actually he has hidden them for almost 20 years. He decided to reveal them because in the recent years he came into contact with many Vietnamese youths and felt sorrowful to see many budding talents surrendering to temptations, got trapped in quagmire. He hopes that his following confidence will bring them a new faith, infuse them with newlife, thus help them forge ahead for a brighter future.

"The road ahead is difficult not because of obstructing rivers and mountains, but because people fear of them."

Success is a journey -- not a destination

I was born to a poor and large family, with 9 children. My mother has merely completed her fifth grade. The whole family lived on the modest salary of my father who was a government employee as a health technician. I was raised and educated by my paternal grandparents in Bong Son, Binh Dinh province. When I was 11 years old (1972), my father became hemiplegic after an operation for appendicitis. For his treatment convenience, my family moved to Go Vap and lived near my maternal grandparents. Without the main financial support from my father, I began peddling cigarettes at the bus station to help my family. My childhood innocence soon disappeared after some deceptions (sometimes people cheated to get a few cigarettes). Every morning from 5 A.M., I brought my cigarettes to the buses to sell them to drivers, their assistants and merchants. At noon, my mother took over my place so that I could go to school. In the afternoon, after school, I resumed my peddling work until 10 P.M. Although I had no spare time, I liked to study. Mathematics is my most favorite subject and I usually solved problems on the back of empty cigarette envelopes. As I did not have many empty packets, I often had to use mental arithmetic and wrote down on paper only when it was absolutely necessary. I also had to find the shortest and simplest way to solve problems so that I could sell cigarettes while working out math operations. Other subjects of study did not fit such a situation. Many of my classmates could afford to take English courses at the Vietnamese-American
Association or Math-Physics-Chemistry courses at private schools. Sometimes looking at them, I bewailed my unfortunate lot.

In 1976, in order to avoid being sent to "new economic regions," my parents scraped together all their money to buy a small rice field in Lai Thieu, Binh Duong province, and two buffalo calves. My life thus took a turning point. The cigarette peddler became a farmer, planting tubers, corn and rice seedlings, tilling, ... But our field was too small to feed the entire eleven-member family. We had to disperse. My mother went to Ba Chieu market; she blackmarketed to make a living and help paying for my father's undergoing treatment with hope that he could walk on crutches. I helped to raise and educate six younger siblings in a mud-walled and thatched hut I myself built amid a ricefield. My younger brother, Phi, 9 years old, went to school half a day, and tended the water buffalos in the other half. As for me, after school, I cultivated our rice field or worked for others for wages. Our sufferings were countless.

Humiliation builds strength and determination

In late 1977, many rice-fields in South Viet Nam were heavily damaged by insects. This resulted famine for the whole country. Of course, my family shared the common misery. From 1977 to 1980, our daily meals consisted of rice mixed with sweet potato (more potato than rice) and boiled vegetables. From time to time we had some crabs or fish that Phi caught in a nearby brook. My youngest sister Thanh- Thai, although has privileged in our meals, often cried at night because she was still hungry. One night, feverish and hungry, she cried fiercely. Having nothing to comfort her, I took the risk to sneak into a nearly manioc field of a big landowner to steal some for my sister. Unfortunately that was the night the landowner mobilized his men to catch anglers who often stole his tubers. When I stepped in his land, a burst of flashlights shone on my face; I fled frightenly but they had identified me. They dashed in my hut to hunt for me. My siblings, knowing nothing about the happening were terrified by the hostility of the intruders and wailed mournfully. Hiding behind a rice field cause-way, I heard their cries and was heart-broken. I ran back hiding behind my hut to eavesdrop. The landowner was a sly fox. He predicted what I was doing, so his men caught me easily. I was tied up like an animal, brought to the landowner's house in the village, thrown flat on the earthen yard in front of the house, surrounded by a pack of ferocious dogs. The landowner's daughter, coming out of the house, directed her flashlight on my face and vituperated: "You're a bright-looking boy, yet a thief." She then spat in my face and went on: "Ill-bred boy, shameless boy!" I still bear profound marks of her acts and curses in my mind, because they were like a sharp-pointed knife piercing deeply into my heart, an invisible hand strangling my throat.

The day would dawn in a few hours, but I felt the dark night was endless. I concerned for my younger brother and sisters who would be worring and afraid, because they did not know where I was taken. I thought to myself: "Is it a fate that I would be a miserable person all my life, a ploughman for wage, a buffalo tender, trodden down and cursed? If that were my fate, the Creator would be very unjust." My mind was filled with questions about life and future.

The dew which fell on me was bitterly cold, and the spit of the landowner's daughter on my face had dried. However, I felt like a torch burning continuously in my heart. That was the first time in my life I experienced such a humiliation. I wept inwardly and said to myself. If that were my fate, I would oppose the Heaven's decree. I will arise to show that "to be poor doesn't mean to be ill-bred." Even an ill-bred person, he is a human and is not shameless.

For the past nearly 20 years, what happened in that aghast night has always been appearing clearly in my mind as if it was yesterday. Her scathing voice and her contemptuous look always lingered in my mind and incited me that I have to overcome all obstacles to be successful.
My journey was full of hardships and humiliations. I cannot reveal them all here. I mention only the above happening in order to draw a conclusion:
"Everything in our life has its price. If a student wants to be successful in his future, he must agree to pay a price which is the daily diligence and studiousness, instead of amusements and material things. If you choose amusement, you are also paying its price with your future without knowing it. In other words, you can get anything you want if you agree to pay its price. "

Everyone can dream of success, but only those who get up early and work hard will achieve it.

Last Updated: 6/3/21