Vivien is a Reality Changers alumnus who grew up in City Heights, San Diego. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and they worked hard to provide for Vivien and her sister. No one in Vivien’s family had been to college, but she was determined to be the first to go.
“As much as getting a degree is about me and my interests, I also understand that I carry a lot of people with me on my shoulders: my parents, my sister, my grandparents. For my grandparents, I was just a dream in their head back in Vietnam. I was just this idea. I think that’s why I try to do my best in everything I can. There’s a lot at stake.”
In order to start working towards her goal of getting a college degree, Vivien applied to Reality Changers in 2013. She began the program during her freshman year of high school and felt very nervous at first.
“I remember my dad dropping me off at Reality Changers and I was like, ‘please don’t make me do this’. I was so shy meeting people. At the beginning stages, I really had to push myself to go.”
Despite her trepidation, Vivien continued with the academic tutoring and leadership training. She challenged herself to try out new things, even when she felt apprehensive.
“One of my biggest breakthroughs at Reality Changers came when I was participating in Speech Night. I remember at first thinking, ‘I hate public speaking’. I literally just dreaded it. When I heard my peers speak, I was thinking, ‘wow that’s so powerful, they have so much to say’. And I felt like my story was just so insignificant. When it was finally my turn to talk, though, everyone was so supportive. I realized that it doesn’t matter how big or small your story is, you can still inspire people. That was probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve gained from Reality Changers: being confident with myself and my story and understanding that people want to listen.”
Throughout high school, Vivien stayed committed to the public speaking, academic coaching, college readiness, and professional development programs at Reality Changers. She felt welcomed and encouraged by a community of volunteer tutors, academic coaches, professional mentors, and peers — all working together to support her on her college journey.
“I learned that we are all struggling, we are all scared, and we all sometimes feel embarrassed by our backgrounds. But, no matter what, we are still staying close together, still helping each other, and still lifting each other up.”
As time went on, Vivien learned to celebrate her unique background and visualize herself not only as a college student but also as a college graduate.
“Being confident in yourself is a really hard thing to do. It’s a life-long practice. Things get hard. They get rough. They get lonely. It’s always an everyday challenge to push myself, but I know that my peers and I can all be successful. We can do it!”
Vivien graduated from Reality Changers in 2017. She credits the program with helping her to develop the soft skills necessary to be successful as an adult.
“Reality Changers was probably the best opportunity I’ve ever gotten. Because of Reality Changers, I’ve learned leadership skills and grown as a professional. So, I’m super grateful.”
Today, Vivien is a confident and outgoing college student. She volunteers with the Reality Changers Alumni Network, outreaching to new first-generation college students and sharing her story of growth.
“If I can somehow inspire someone else to do something that they may not be comfortable with, that’s awesome. When you show someone that their reality can be changed, you are creating a more equitable society for everybody.”
Together we can lift each other up. Donate today to support young people like Vivien. Your gift supports programs that foster leadership skills and self-belief in future first-generation college graduates.