Tuan Nguyen emigrated with his family from Vietnam when he was six years old. His father had served as an officer in the Vietnam Army. When the Communists took over, he was forced to spend six years at a labor reeducation camp and lost everything. The Humanitarian Operation Program brought the family to the United States in 1994 so they could escape continued economic suffering in their homeland. They settled in Maryland.

Still, Tuan’s father was under-employed, working for years as a screen printer in a T-shirt factory. Tuan’s mother stayed home initially to take care of him and his brother. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mom raising me so well. I owe a lot to both my parents.” When Tuan was about ten, his mother began suffering from severe arthritis, which made it painful for her to walk and impossible for her to work. Then his father’s hospitalization for liver disease threatened the family’s already fragile livelihood.

With housing assistance and by extreme thrift, the family struggled to get by. He and his brother learned about computers by finding discarded ones in the trash, 2006 taking them apart, and putting them back together. When he was in middle school, Tuan discovered that the YMCA had old computers donated to them. Because he helped fix them, he got one himself—his first Windows 98 computer. “I was very excited. I kept figuring it out, and eventually I got good at it.” In high school, Tuan worked stocking shelves at a CVS and helped fix computers and teach senior citizens how to use them at a non-profit.

Initially, Tuan decided to go to a two year college because of the family’s finances. One of his teachers said that he could do more and helped him apply for scholarships, including the Beat the Odds Award. “CDF helped a lot financially and I got to meet my fellow winners and hear their amazing stories. I felt like they had more things to live through than I did.” He was proud, though, and so were his parents. “My story was in the newspaper, and my mom was showing it to everybody. She was so honored. It made their sacrifice feel less like a sacrifice.”

Tuan excelled in college, and has been working full-time at a tech firm since his senior year. He graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland—Baltimore County. This summer, he received a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University—Engineering Program for Professionals while working full time.

In March, he accepted a job as a software engineer at Raytheon Henggeler Consulting and he bought a home in Silver Spring, becoming the first homeowner as well as college graduate in his family. He wishes that his father, who died three years ago, were around to see what he has accomplished.