Mr. Tommy Nguyen's heartfelt thoughts and advice for WISHers post Career Quest 2020

As one of the judging panelists for Career Quest 2020, Mr. Tommy Nguyen (Co-Founder and COO of Point Avenue) has shared some heartfelt thoughts about the importance of nurturing 21st Century skills for students - which is also the goal Career Quest hoped to bring and thus to help the students through this competition. We would like to invite our dear WISHers and parents to read this earnest and inspirational speech from Mr. Tommy.
Mr. Tommy Nguyen together with Career Quest 2020 organizers and awarded teams

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. 

Mr. Tommy delivering an earnest speech to the Finalists at Career Quest 2020 Gala Award Ceremony

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:

  1. Life consists of many chapters. Where we think we are going is often not where we ultimately end up. Maintain a plan; adjust as necessary. 
  2. Part of figuring out who you are is figuring out who you are not. If you do not know what your calling is, continue to seek knowledge and skills. Invest in yourself.
  3. It is never too late to reinvent yourself.
Mr. Tommy as a mentor giving advice on Career Quest 2020 first training session

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.”


Mr. Tommy as part of the judge panelists on Career Quest 2020 Final Round

I would like to share a bit of advice to our students as they prepare to enter the VUCA world:

  1. Master the basics. Don’t try to think outside the box unless you can proficiently do what’s inside first. Math. Science. Language. Being proficient in these three subjects provides you the greatest optionality for college and beyond. You do not need to achieve perfect grades, nor do you need to regard each as a favorite subject. However, if you are weak in one of these subjects, you must actively seek help and work towards improving your knowledge and skills in that area. Do not let a weakness compound over time. Do not limit your future options.
  1. Make time to explore your interest. Not all learning has to be work. Whether you are interested in reading the latest tech and learning to code or studying an architectural design and practicing a new sketching technique, plan time in your daily and weekly schedule to develop and nurture your interests.Talent is nice, but effort counts twice. Talent must be multiplied by effort to transform into skill. Skill multiplied by effort then equals achievement. In both equations, effort is the driving factor. Of note, the quicker you master the basics and handle your responsibilities, the more time you will have to do what you want to do.
  1. Conduct research. It is not enough to just say that you are interested in something. College admissions do not care what you say you are interested in. They care about where you have invested your time, the knowledge and skills you have accumulated, and the opportunities you have created for yourself. Read the latest trends and developments surrounding your interests. What kinds of knowledge and skills do you require to become successful in this academic or extracurricular field? Connect and learn from experts in the field. Has your field of interest  changed over time? How so? Where will it be 10 and 20 years from now? How can you better position yourself to grow and thrive in your area of interest?
  1. Join communities. The easiest way to nurture your interest is to surround yourself with people who share your values. Whether you are interested in sports and community service or science research and performing arts, make the first step by joining a team, club, or organization.Do your best to commit at least one year to the organization. Communities typically provide people, resources, and training to start you on your learning journey. More importantly, they provide physical and emotional support when you encounter challenges. If you can not find a community for your interest, start one with your friends.
  1. Find work and volunteer within your community group. Remember that college admissions are looking for students with high performance and achievement in their  areas of interest. This means captaining or serving as an organizational leader for your community. Naturally, rising to leadership positions in any organization takes time. Find ways to contribute to your community by volunteering for the menial tasks. Demonstrate that you can add value to the organization and are willing to put the group’s needs before your own. People like people who add value to their community. Soon, you will be entrusted with greater roles and responsibilities.
  1. Capitalize on opportunities. As you assume positions of greater responsibility within your organization, you will naturally be presented with opportunities that will challenge and showcase your skills. Remember that talent multiplied by effort equals skill. And skill multiplied by effort then equals achievement. Take the leap. Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity.


Thank you.

Mr. Tommy awarding 100% scholarship from Point Avenue to the Winner of Career Quest 2020