"Without the support of QuestBridge, I know that I would be on a very different path."
Van Anh, Stanford University

Van Anh Tran

Hometown: Garden Grove, CA

Stanford University

My father’s eyes glaze over as he concludes another chapter of his tale of tragedy and adventure, of the journey of a man who crosses the Pacific to escape, of the end of one life characterized by destruction to another of uncertainty. He thinks I am asleep as he tucks me in and leaves my room. My six-year-old imagination, however, is placing myself onto the boat of his story—the same kind that led to the salvation of many Vietnamese refugees and the demise of countless others—wondering how my small body would fit among those of the hundreds of others on this cramped vessel. I know it is dangerous, but at least I am not alone.

As the daughter of refugees, I grew up hearing such stories. These stories informed how I saw my family, my community, and myself. Since my father raised me as a single parent, I received the full range of his emotions—from moments of immense love to moments of immense rage. When I began to learn about the Vietnam War in school and the discrepancies between that version and the version I heard within my community, I started to recognize that there were many reasons why my father was the person that he was. The root of many of his reactions and beliefs seemed to stem from this conflict that he could never forget.

I knew that I wanted my future to focus on this deeper analysis of historical memory and its impact on communities impacted by trauma. Becoming a QuestBridge Scholar and attending Stanford University as an undergraduate allowed me to pursue this passion that had developed before I even knew what to call it. I was lucky enough to study Public History, a track within the History Department, that focused on the way that people learn and remember history. Afterward, I had the opportunity to stay at Stanford for a Masters in Education and apply my passion for historical memory in the classroom as a teacher. After teaching for three years, I will continue my education and pursue a doctorate in Social Studies Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College–a feat that I would not have imagined when I was sitting in my high school history classes hearing conflicting accounts of a history that I thought I had known. Without the support of QuestBridge and organizations that focus explicitly on building community and the recruitment and retention of low-income, students of color, I know that I would be on a very different path.

Every now and again, I find myself back in that room where I would listen to my father’s stories. I see his eyes glaze over again. I used to think it was because he was trying to forget a bad memory. But now I wonder if he was worried that these memories have already been forgotten.


Written by Van Anh Tran, Stanford University '13, as a part of the QuestBridge Storytelling Week in April 2017. For more stories like this, please visit QuestBridge Storytelling.