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Working mom lives American Dream

June 28, 2012|Kate Coleman

The "American Dream" is alive and well in Hagerstown — in the person of Tuyen Tran.

Some of you might know her as "Melissa," the skilled and gentle nail technician at Nail Palace & Spa in Hagerstown's North End.

This spring, Melissa's husband, Dung "Danny" Hoang, mentioned to me that Melissa had thought about asking me for help with the speech she had been asked to give at her May 19 graduation.

I knew Melissa was studying something in the pharmacology field at The George Washington University. I'd been impressed that she would tackle such a challenge while simultaneously working in her family's business and raising her almost-7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

I wanted to know how this 32-year-old woman had come so far since her arrival in the United States from Bien Hoa, Vietnam, as a 10-year-old child.

Melissa was selected as the 2012 Outstanding Undergraduate Health Sciences Student Award winner at the university. The letter informing her of the honor cited her "strong academic performance, leadership, work ethic and inspiring your fellow students."  

In her speech, Melissa thanked her family, teachers and friends for their help and support. She encouraged her classmates: "Don't give up on your dreams."

Her dream began in Vietnam, where the "privilege" of free education doesn't exist. Her working-class parents sacrificed a lot for her to go to school, she told me.

Melissa came to America in 1992 and lived with her grandparents in Northern Virginia.

She started studying business at Montgomery College. She disliked it. She  always preferred science.

She and Danny met while working in a metro-area salon. They married in October 2003, opened their Hagerstown business in February 2004, commuted from Silver Spring, Md., for six months, then moved to Hagerstown.

In 2010, Melissa began her junior year at George Washington's Virginia Science and Technology Campus in Ashburn, Va. When school is in session, she gets up at 2:30 or 3 a.m. She drives 63 miles — each way. "It's not easy," she said.

Danny's been a great supporter — juggling his business with caring for his children.

"He's a wonderful husband and a very good friend," Melissa said.

During a recent pedicure, I heard Melissa tell her son that his hour on the computer was up. "Time to go read," she said.   

"I'm very strict, very disciplined when it comes to school. I told my children they are very lucky to have the opportunity to go to school," she said.

Her son plays soccer and piano and recently joined the YMCA swim team. When he said that learning the piano was too hard, his mom told him, "Nothing is impossible if you work hard on it."

Melissa earned her Bachelor of Science in health sciences in pharmacogenomics, a science that examines how genetic variations dictate a patient's response to a drug. She's continuing her schooling — working toward a doctorate — with a minimum of three more years of study.

Tuyen Tran has followed her own advice. She's never given up on her dream. Her hard work has made it possible.

Congratulations to Melissa. I am happy for her success and honored to know her.


Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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