Vivian Huang is a CAN alum whom graduated from Franklin High Schools in 2011 and went on to pursue her degree at University of Washington- Seattle. Vivian has been deeply embedded in the CAN community since her junior year of high school. Even as she went to college, she would return to CAN and participate in our events such as Spring Forward and our CAN Homecoming (where college students reunite in December when they come home for the holidays).
Vivian exemplifies strength, resilience, and community. Read her story below to see how she came to be a graduate of UW Seattle and about the work she does in her community.
It’s been two years since I’ve graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude, majoring in Communication and Creative Writing. But it feels like only yesterday when I took a tour of the campus with CAN.
Back in high school, I always thought college was light-years away. I was confident I would arrive there eventually as long as I followed the right path and took the right steps. I didn’t think too much about the finer details, especially what was involved in applying to college.
From a young age, my family emphasized higher education as being a gateway to better opportunities and financial stability. My dad never finished middle school and my mom has only an Associate’s degree. Both sets of my grandparents stopped attending school at a young age and worked to support the family. Unlike most of my family, I was fortunate enough to attend school and knew I needed to work hard to achieve a college degree.
When I walked across the stage to receive my UW diploma, there was no one happier than my grandpa. He insisted in attending the long ceremony, enduring the hot sun in order to watch me graduate. His dream had always been to see his grandchildren succeed and receive the college degree he never had.
He was proud of me.
However, I knew this wasn't something I accomplished on my own.
In my junior year of high school, CAN visited classrooms and encouraged students to enroll in their program. Most of my friends signed up with me, but none of us knew what to expect. CAN provided us with all the resources and support we didn’t know we needed. There was one particular session where we went over college expenses that blew my mind. The options of renting textbooks or buying used would help save money, while the decision to live on campus would save time. During these CAN sessions, I realized there were many factors in deciding what college was the right fit for me and how I wanted to shape my experience.
In my senior year of high school, my friends and I were constantly at the CAN office. We came for second opinions on our essays and help on deciphering our tax forms. We often stayed late in the computer lab, working on our college applications and worrying about the deadlines. Like many of my peers, I was also busy with AP classes, club meetings, volunteering, and graduation projects. During this hectic time, I was extremely grateful for the support of CAN and my high school coach.
For me, college was a period of self-discovery and endless possibilities. My sophomore year of college, I decided to study abroad. I had never given much thought into studying abroad because I was worried about the financial costs and how I would get credit for school. But with the help of my CAN coach and UW Study Abroad Office, I discovered the perfect fit: Creative Writing in Rome.
My study abroad experience in Rome was the highlight of my college career. Early mornings were spent at historical sites followed by an afternoon siesta, a long break in the middle of the day to rest and eat. In the evenings, we went to the UW Rome Center for lectures and group discussion.
Studying abroad truly opened my eyes and mind, enabling me to see the world in a new perspective. I realized I loved traveling and learning about other cultures. As a writer, my experiences have only enhanced the stories I share with the world, especially my own.
Storytelling and giving back to my community have always been important aspects of my life. Throughout high school, I volunteered with two non-profit organizations that I had close connections with: America SCORES and the Chinese Information Service Center (CISC).
In college, I began sharing my experiences at CAN events like Spring Forward and sitting on the CAN high school panels.
With my involvement in non-profits, it wasn’t surprising that after graduation, I landed a position as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Executive Development Institute (EDI), a non-profit organization that offers culturally tailored leadership programs for multi-ethnic professionals. With the support of my CAN coach, Cindy Gudiño, who carefully looked over my resume and helped me prepare for the interview, I was hired for the job. At EDI, I learned about leadership styles, professionalism, fundraising, etc. But one of my biggest takeaways from EDI is, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”
Through the connections I met in EDI, I eventually joined the committee that organizes the yearly Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month Celebration. Last year, I represented my festival at the Festál Turns 20: A Reimagining event. Festál is a yearly series of cultural festivals at Seattle Center, which includes the API Heritage Month Celebration. By working on a presentation for the event, I met my current manager, Steve Sneed, the Managing Artist Director of the Cultural Programs Office at the Seattle Center.
After three years at EDI, I decided to try something new. When I left in February, Steve was coincidentally looking for someone to fill the admin position in his office. He knew I was leaving EDI and reached out to me. Through my festival connection and work in the community, I now serve as the liaison between the festivals and Seattle Center. I work with the festival producers and support the execution of their respective events.
For CAN students currently pursuing their degree, my advice is to explore and take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t leave any stones unturned or doors closed. “A degree changes everything.” But also, don’t forget where you came from and give back to the community that has supported you.
My CANmunity has been there for me since the beginning. When I was first asked to write and share my story, I didn’t hesitate. I’m sharing my story in the hopes that other CAN students will share theirs. Thank you for this opportunity, CAN!
Vivian on May 2, 2018 at our annual Spring Forward fundraising event.