Found in Translation: Vietnamese first year student finds his niche

By William A. Wyman, professor of music

Cao Nguyen emigrated to Lincoln from Vietnam along with his sister and mother in 2005. They followed his maternal grandparents who had arrived in the U.S. previously. None of the Nguyen family spoke English as Cao, the eldest child, enrolled at Lincoln’s Goodrich Middle School.

Cao NguyenThe family integrated into Lincoln with the grandfather working as a custodian for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Molex while the mother worked in a meat packing plant in Crete. Cao and his sister placed their time and energy into citizenship, schoolwork and learning English.

In spring 2006, Joni Osborn, vocal music director at Lincoln North Star High School, came to Goodrich to audition singers interested in her choir at North Star. Nguyen came to sing for her. With limited English and no knowledge of Western music, he could sing only a Vietnamese folk song. He figured he’d give it his best shot. Osborn was moved to tears as she listened.

Nguyen flourished as a singer, musician and tennis player at North Star. In June 2010, he became the first in his family to earn a high school diploma, graduating in the top tenth of his class of more than 500.

Nguyen competed for and won a position in the 2010 Wesleyan Honors Choir where he’s made an impression on music faculty. He’s matured into a fine singer, is proficient and comfortable on stage and has little traces of his native language when speaking English. He enrolled as a first year student in vocal music education at Nebraska Wesleyan where he secured spots in University Choir and Touch of Class Jazz Ensemble. He also competes on the Prairie Wolves tennis team.

With limited English and no knowledge of Western music, he could sing only a Vietnamese folk song. He figured he'd give it his best shot. Osborn was moved to tears as she listened.

Nguyen promises to be among the most capable students in the Music Department. The journey that began in Vietnam has brought him to this point as the first in his family to enter college. Private scholarships have helped to make that journey possible.

The young singer who spoke little English in 2006 has morphed into a confident, talented young performer determined to get full value of the opportunity offered him at Nebraska Wesleyan. His story is especially remarkable considering he has no father in the United States, he is attempting to pay his own tuition at Nebraska Wesleyan, and he is responsible for taking care of his mother, grandparents, sister and 1 year-old stepbrother.

To maintain these responsibilities while meeting the demands of college life, two choral ensembles and intercollegiate athletics is truly extraordinary. When he receives his diploma in May 2014, he will have pulled off an amazing success story that honors his family. Nebraska Wesleyan and the Music Department are fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to his success.