By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2016
FAYETTEVILLE—When Jenn Nguyen returned to Our Lady of Mercy High School her senior year it was like coming home.
A Catholic school student since third grade, when she started at St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville, Nguyen decided after attending Our Lady of Mercy for two years to attend a public high school her junior year.
“I’ve been in private school for most of my life, and being in the same group of people all the time, I kind of just wanted to try something different,” said Nguyen.
The second generation Vietnamese-American wanted to get out of her comfort zone and work on what she called weaknesses, like public speaking.
“I knew I was using a whole bunch of my friends as like a crutch,” she said.
However, what she saw at the public school was unsettling.
“People were outrightly mean,” said Nguyen. “I’ve never experienced this before because I was always in an environment where everyone was welcoming and nice and just trying to include everyone, so that’s a different perspective. Here, we are always trying to respect other people’s ideas.”
Nguyen chose to return to OLM for that reason and because of the quality of instruction.
“I decided to come back to Mercy because when I was there, I guess it wasn’t as rigorous,” she said. “We are all friends here, but we also compete academically.”
Nguyen, the daughter of Kim Phan and Duy Nguyen of Ellenwood, also appreciates the diversity of OLM.
During her year in public school, Nguyen did have a valuable experience in learning about a shoe drive called purSHOEing Joy, coordinated by the Spanish club.
When she returned to OLM, Nguyen worked with the program’s co-founder and OLM theology teacher Mark Tolcher to launch the drive there. The students and faculty collected 800 pairs of shoes for the needy in Guatemala in one week’s time.
An active member of the youth group TNTT at Our Lady of Vietnam Church in Riverdale, Nguyen has many extracurricular activities. She is a Model U.N. captain and sings in the AMA choir, an a cappella group. She played basketball for two years.
With a 3.8 grade point average, Nguyen is a member of the National Honor Society and completed six Advanced Placement courses.
She will attend the University of Georgia for pre-med studies. Nguyen is interested in medical research focusing on skin grafts for burn victims. She wants to explore how to make grafts better and more natural. Her interest in research stems from science courses at OLM.
“Biology was one of my strongest subjects back in freshman year so I think that really encouraged me to investigate this field,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen expressed gratitude to her teachers and guidance counselor Sandra Livsey-Martin for her focus on seniors.
She especially enjoyed math classes with Ana DeMello, who “makes learning fun.”
DeMello even practiced conversational Spanish with Nguyen.
“She really cares about her students,” she said.
Nguyen feels indebted to her parents. Her mother went to work after completing elementary school to support her siblings, and her dad received a technical school education after arriving in the United States. Her parents stressed the importance of education to all their children.
“My parents really engrained to be responsible and be hard working because they didn’t grow up in an environment where they were able to go to school,” said Nguyen.
“They struggled through all of that so they were like, ‘we want to provide you with the best tools’,” said Nguyen. “So they sent me here. They really want the best for me in terms of education and my future.”
“They’re such workaholics because they want to work for us so we can be successful, so I just want to give back to them after college.”
She supports other friends in the parish youth group.
“I feel like my knowledge I’ve gained through private school has helped me guide my friends in the right direction and kind of inspire them to learn more about the faith,” said Nguyen.
In turn, she enjoys the backing of older mentors at the parish.
“We always try to update them on what’s going on in our lives,” she said of the big brother/big sister mentors.
Principal Brian Newhall was Nguyen’s AP government teacher.
“She is as wholesome as they come,” said Newhall. “She has one foot in her Catholic, Vietnamese tradition, and she’s very much a teen in the 21st century.”
Newhall said Nguyen demonstrates to other young people that “it’s not weird to be a good Catholic rooted in your faith and family.”
The engaged learning environment of AP classes includes many discussions and allowed Newhall to witness Nguyen’s unique kindness toward other students.
“She would explain things to them,” he said. “I saw a great academic intensity but more than that— a warmth.”
Nguyen feels her last year went quickly but is grateful for the lasting friendships, including her bond with fellow choir member Landy Thomas. Their friendship dates back to St. John the Evangelist School.
“Landy and I go through so many things,” said Nguyen.
She expects that OLM will always be part of her life whether it’s visiting campus or staying in touch with classmates.
“When I first came back, it was such a smooth transition back into Mercy because I picked up where I left off.”
For freshmen, she advises hitting the books.
“Go hard your first two years. Get your GPA as high as you possibly can,” she said. “You’ve got to hold that 4.0.”