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Rachel’s Story: “The future we can build together”

Rachel Nguyen spoke at the Chicago Scholars 25th Anniversary Celebration in October of 2021.

Rachel Nguyen, a Chicago Scholar and senior at Walter Payton College Prep, has been interviewed by both Fox 32 Chicago and CBS Chicago about her family’s story and her involvement in Chicago Scholars. Rachel shared the following speech at our 25th Anniversary Celebration in October 2021.

When I think about the power of education, I think about family dinners. I’ve lived in Edgewater for my entire life with my parents, my grandparents, and my two younger sisters. Food has always been a prominent part of my culture and my roots. However, we’ve never really had the chance to enjoy the food together. We’ve never had sit-down dinners.

My parents came to the United States in 1975 as refugees from Vietnam, and they have worked extremely hard all of my life to make sure our family has everything we need. My mother is a nail technician, and she works from nine in the morning to eight at night, almost 12 hour shifts. My father owned a restaurant called Simply It, located in Lincoln Park, for 14 years, and the demanding hours have resulted in many nights sleeping in the dining room chairs instead of his own bed. My parents have always left really early in the morning and come home late, and so I’ve been like a third parent to my younger sisters who are 11 and 5 years old.

Growing up, I always had meals by myself. But when I went to my friends’ houses for dinner, their parents worked 9-to-5’s, so it was easy to come together at the dinner table and share a nice meal. I’ve always dreamt of those sit-down dinners for my family in the future. And I know that education—a college degree and a well-paying job—is the way to get there.

When I started high school at Walter Payton College Prep, the idea of college was immediately thrown around. It was a bit of a culture shock—hearing names like Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Stanford were foreign to me. At that age, I was like “I’m going to Truman for sure” because the City Colleges of Chicago were the only colleges I knew about. Other schools felt unrealistic for someone like me, a first-generation college student.

But I continued to work hard in school, to be there for my sisters, and my family. And I’m proud to stand before you tonight, and tell you that I just completed seven college admission interviews at Onsite earlier today. I interviewed at Pitzer College, Northeastern University, and Middlebury College, just to name a few. This was an extremely valuable opportunity, as I had the chance to speak to my regional admissions officers and provide a story beyond the numbers on my application, to provide a face to the essays that they would be reading. I am happy to announce that at Onsite, I was granted my very first acceptance to DePaul University, located in the heart of Chicago.

See Rachel on CBS Chicago

And even though I’m done with Onsite, I’m not done applying to colleges. For instance, I’m still going to apply to Barnard College, Pomona College, and Yale in the weeks ahead, and that’s because Chicago Scholars has pushed me to reach higher than I would have on my own. I’ve had such a strong support system throughout this process from Chicago Scholars. My college counselor broadened my horizons. I’ve been accepted into fly-in programs, and recently, I’ve had the chance to fly-out and visit the University of Richmond—all expenses paid. I’m fortunate enough to have Mentors that are Chicago Scholars alumni to guide me through my postsecondary journey. Not only have they recently been through the college application process themselves, but they’ve shown me how they are using their college education in their careers.

In college, I’ve been thinking about majoring in public health. I want to implement policies that would alleviate the barriers in healthcare for people of color and people with a lower-income status. I’ve seen members of my family impacted from gestational diabetes and severe arthritis, and expensive medications—like Insulin—have put a dent in our wallet. Even when my parents have experienced these physical difficulties, they’re still working as hard as ever. I want to make access to healthcare easier, not just for my family, but for all families going through this.

When I think about my hopes and dreams for the future, I think about getting my family out of a low-income bracket and into generational wealth. I think about helping my sisters with their college applications in the ways Chicago Scholars has helped me. And I think about taking my family out of the country on vacation. One of my goals is to take my parents back to Vietnam for the first time since they fled.

Now, all of this feels more attainable than ever before. My hope is that in the future, these things become more attainable for more and more students in Chicago. More sit-down dinners. More time with family. More access to education and healthcare. That’s the future we can build together.