Never Forget Where You Come From

By Cathy Dao, BCIS Alumni, Valedictorian of Sequim High School, USA

Greetings from America! As I am writing this to you on another unseasonably rainy day in the most northwestern corner of America-a little town called Sequim, Washington - I recall the monsoon showers of Saigon that I biked through in years past. It has been two years since I said my farewell to CISS and ventured on, in the words of 16th century explorers, to the “New World”. However, CISS has never left me.

Here in Sequim, as I play guitar in my school’s jazz band at 7 a.m. every morning, I occasionally catch myself back in time, to Grade 10 at BCIS, when I started the Singing in the Shower Music Club (Hey music lovers!). As I work in the student council to organize community projects, my thoughts sometimes wander off to the bake sales, charity concerts and food drives CISS led to support local communities in need.As I devoured in its entirety The Tempest in Middle English, I fondly thought of the baby steps I took to understand Shakespeare in Mr. Wes’ Grade 8 English Class. All this is to say, that though I left Vietnam for America after Grade 10, I still carry the CISS memories and experiences to this day. And now, these are coming with me, and my favorite home-made kimchi, to Stanford University.

Cathy Dao, BCIS Alumni, Valedictorian of Sequim High School, USA

As illogical as it sounds, most of my life happened in these four short years. When I was in Grade 9 at BCIS, I wrote a note to my future self. During the college application season months ago, I opened it, and discovered my secret prophecy powers-wrong. In it, Grade 9 Cathy asked me “So, what’s it gonna be, Harvard, Columbia, or Yale?” I don’t need to tell you how that went. So, to my fellow CISS-ers who are still uncertain about where to apply to school, what jobs to get or what TV shows to binge on next, no need to fret. Like the chaos theory of mathematics, the beauty of life is that it is unpredictable. Now an embattled veteran of the high school life, here’s my three cents worth of wisdom:

First, the world is your stage, and you are the playwright. Think of college admission officers as readers who look for a story that’s interesting, but more importantly, brimming with depth, authenticity and potential. Who writes that story? You. Get involved. Do new things. Keep moving. Standardized test scores may help you make the first cut, but it is the causes, the people and the ideals you have cherished and fought for, that make the lasting difference. Be active.

Second, be the best you can be, not only to your family and community, but above all, to yourself. High school drama is a tempting junk food: avoid it. Quality memories and friendships: make them. Be kind.

Finally, never forget where you come from. To parents of CISS, make sure that your children have a strong foundation in their roots. I remember rolling my eyes at my mom years ago whenever she stressed about the need to understand my Vietnamese heritage. Only when I moved to America did I realize that having a good grasp on one’s native culture is as crucial as learning about others. Be appreciative.

In 2014, Cathy Dao was a Rhino Ambassador and had field trip to South Africa

Though UC Berkeley and UCLA flung their gates open to me, my heart fell for Stanford. Its people, programs and passion to pursue the ends of the world and make a change align perfectly with my lifelong calling to contribute to international diplomacy between America and Asia. But enough about my story. It’s your turn to write yours.

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