A San Diego teenager whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam when he just 3 years old has been accepted into Harvard University, an opportunity he said will change his life and that of his family.
“Her future (my mom’s) – our family’s future – has opened up to so many possibilities,” said Thang Ho, 17, a resident of San Diego’s City Heights community.
Ho is a senior at Crawford High School and the valedictorian for the class of 2021.
He’s also now bound for Harvard University, joining the Ivy League school’s class of 2025 this fall, where he plans to major in computer science with a minor in psychology. He’s the first Crawford High School Student in 10 years to be accepted to Harvard.
Ho was accepted to Harvard University on April 6, 2021, at 4:01 p.m.
It’s a day he will never forget.
Ho and his mom were Zooming with his older brother who lives in the Bay Area. His brother is his biggest supporter – the person who pushed him to apply to Harvard University.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be here today,” Ho told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7.
While on the video call that afternoon, Ho opened the school portal and there, scrolled on his account, he saw his fate: “Congrats, welcome to the class of 2025.”
Then, there were screams of pure joy. A lot of screams.
“It was a shock; it’s actually almost hard to remember,” Ho recounted. “My mom and I were screaming so loud in our tiny apartment that our neighbor – who’s actually my aunt – was like, ‘Are you OK?’ She thought we were in a crime scene or something, we were screaming so, so loud.”
The screams turned to tears.
So much family sacrifice and so much hard work, all for this very moment.
“It just kept repeating. That moment was surreal. I’ve never felt that amount of happiness in my life,” Ho added, saying he had never been so proud of himself.
The teen said the moment didn't just belong to him, though, it also belonged to his mother and brother. They are among his closest confidants, the ones who lift him up.
Ho said his family – his mom, dad, older brother, and him – immigrated to the United States from Vietnam 14 years ago. His mom lived in a village and she wanted a better life for her sons.
He said the moment he got into Harvard was like a fairy tale – especially for his mom.
“Coming from a village and now that her son got into one of most prestigious universities – if this was a Disney tale, it would be like going from rags to riches,” the teen told Telemundo 20 and NBC 7. “It means so, so much to her.”
Ho said his mother has raised him and his brother, working long hours to give them every opportunity she could.
He said his father had a difficult time acclimating to life in America and, soon after they settled in the U.S., his father suffered from substance abuse.
“Through that, he left a lot of marks and scars on my family,” the teen explained.
His father wound up moving back to Vietnam and Ho, his mother and brother stayed in the U.S.
While his mom worked, Ho said his brother stepped up as a second parent to him.
“He was there to mentor me, to guide me to Harvard – to be successful in life,” Ho said. “He wanted the best for me.”
And that brotherly nudge worked.
With the help from his family, friends, teachers, and mentors from the San Diego-based organization First Gen Scholars, Ho got into his dream school.
He said his mission now is to work hard at Harvard and set himself up for a successful future where he can start repaying his mom for all she’s done for him.
“She’s working nonstop for me. I want to give her exponentially what she gave me,” Ho said.
After his time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a Harvard student, Ho said also wants to give back to the community that helped him grow.
Ho said he wants to work to improve mental health services for immigrants and underserved communities like City Heights. He wants to add to the good.
Seeing a bright path ahead for his future, Ho said one of the biggest lessons he’ll take away from this achievement is that a support system is critical in life and that he – even though he may have not always felt it – is worth it.
“I am worth it. I am meant to go to Harvard,” the teen said, referring to what his mentors have made him realize.
Ho hopes other first-generation college hopefuls find a way to believe in themselves, too.
“Just take a shot at it. It’s better if you dream big and fail than to aim too low and succeed,” he added.
The teen said the key is to surround yourself with people who support your goals and push you.
And, when he needs a gentle reminder to keep pressing forward, he will take himself back to that moment, at 4:01 p.m., on April 6, 2021.
Ho said he’s going to make that date a special holiday in his personal calendar from now on, just so he can stop and remember the level of happiness he felt that day.
“Just so I can me reminded of all those wonderful memories,” he said.
To learn more about First Gen Scholars and the organization’s mission to guide students from low-income, refugee and immigrant families in San Diego into top universities, visit this website.