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Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.
My name is Tommy, and I am the Co-Founder and COO of Point Avenue.
First, I would like to thank Mrs.Minh and Wellspring for organizing and hosting the Career Quest 2020 competition. Your commitment to student learning is evident in the planning, coordination, and execution of your academic programs, both inside and outside of the classroom. I would also like to thank my fellow guest judges for the insights, advice, and mentorship they provided for our students. Like our students, I personally learned a lot from listening to your observations, questions, and recommendations. Next, I would like to thank our parents and family members for supporting and continuing to invest in our students’ learning. Without your support, none of this would be possible. Lastly, I want to thank our student competitors for the time and energy they put into this project and competition. Your continued hard work, leadership, and commitment to excellence are critical not only for your success and growth but for the success and growth of our communities, Vietnam, and the world.
Up until high school, I dreamt of doing many things. From playing in the National Football League and summiting Mount Everest to piloting a space shuttle to Mars, I must confess that many of my ideas were lofty and foolish. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was walking to my Grade 11 AP Chemistry class when I first heard news of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
As I watched the Twin Towers collapse, claiming the lives of over 3,000 souls, I knew that my calling was to serve. Over the next 15 years, I would deploy to two armed conflicts in the Middle East and advise and assist dozens of allied countries on their national security policies. From leading teammates into combat to helping Afghan families rebuild their war-torn villages, I learned to work with others to problem-solve and overcome challenges.
After transitioning from the military, I decided to pursue higher education via graduate school. While I had had a successful career in the government, I needed to start anew and rebuild my identity. I quickly recognized that I did not possess the technical and analytical background to pursue a meaningful career in STEM. As a result, I chose to study business administration, focusing on finance and entrepreneurship, thus paving a pathway to investment banking. On Wall Street, I worked with medium and large companies to help them raise capital, merge & acquire other companies, and ultimately grow. Here, I learned to work with people from different disciplines - this time to identify, assess, negotiate, and capitalize on growth opportunities for our clients.
It did not take long for me to realize that I would not pursue a long term career in finance. Finance taught me many useful skills and provided me with my first professional work experience outside the military. Still, it wasn’t my true calling - working with people to serve a greater good.
I ultimately returned to Vietnam and Southeast Asia - where I now work with leading educators across multiple fields to help students achieve their educational goals and prepare them for the future success. No, I am not a teacher by the traditional sense of the word. But I am able to use the technical, analytical, and soft skills I have accumulated to bring like-minded individuals together, create a common purpose, and empower them to execute on our vision for better education.
I share my story with the hope that it will help you understand:
When I was first introduced to Career Quest 2020 and its aims, I vaguely remembered the VUCA acronym. Now, I know that VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. As an education strategist, I have been long guiding and mentoring students, spanning from Grade 5 to Masters level, to help them develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences to achieve their immediate goals and position them for future success. Whether we call these 21st Century skills or skills required to operate in a VUCA world, we are discussing the same thing. What attributes and competencies do we need to pass on to our students to help them face future challenges, adapt their strategies and plans, and continue to grow and thrive?
While I only partook in adjudicating the third and final round, it was evident to me, through the quality of the video submissions and interview responses, that our students had developed and nurtured skills I consider most critical to their future success--skills such as exploring one’s interest, researching to problem-solve, communicating with experts, and collaborating with peers.
I think we all can agree that the world is much different now than the one I had shared as a child. Across all stages of life, whether fair or not, the pace is faster and the stakes are higher. One misstep can lead to severe ramifications down the road. Parents must be strategic when planning and guiding their students to help them achieve success in their areas of interest. Getting into college, which once was moderately competitive, is now ultra competitive. It is not enough to just do well in class, play a couple sports, perform some community service, and be well-rounded. In today’s world, students must seek an edge, something that sets them apart from their peers. In addition to garnering top grades, students must strategically plan and craft their extracurricular profiles to show high performance and achievement in their areas of interest.
Be angular over well-rounded. Choose depth over breadth. College admissions officers - and eventually human resource professionals - demand demonstrated knowledge, skills, and experience. Show me; don’t tell me. It is a little secret that my most successful students are not always the most academically gifted when compared with their peers. However, they begin each part of their journey with a well-thought-out plan and follow through with action.
One of my closest mentors often quoted Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He would remind me, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This sounds grim at first. However, my mentor would inspire hope with a line from novelist George Eliot, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
I would like to share a bit of advice to our students as they prepare to enter the VUCA world: