Quyen Chu ’90 MED ’94 arrived in the United States in 1975, months after a chaotic escape from Saigon—now Ho Chi Minh City—as the city fell to communist forces. He grew up in Tavares, Florida. His father, a former officer in the South Vietnamese Army, worked as a barber, and the family struggled financially. Quyen is now the Charles Knight Professor in Surgery, chief of surgical oncology, and vice-chair of academic affairs at the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, Louisiana State University.
Before Dartmouth, I only knew a world of poverty and limits. All the challenges you can imagine about being poor, we faced when I was growing up. We also experienced racism and the whole works. But, you know, there are so many beautiful people on the planet, and specifically in America, who helped us out along the way.
It was very difficult for us to understand American life for a long time. When it came to colleges, I was clueless. But I knew that if I studied hard and persevered—and I was a high school valedictorian—somebody would give me a break. My older sister went to Cornell, and she told me about colleges in the Northeast. She recommended that I apply to Dartmouth. I did, and when I was accepted, that was one of the happiest days of my life.
Everyone at Dartmouth was nice. There were many students from wealthy families, but they weren’t really different. No one was ugly or said anything mean. They knew my father was a barber, and they were impressed that I made it here. We hung out, just like any other kids.
I received nearly a full-ride, four-year scholarship. If I could meet the people who made my scholarship possible, I would thank them and tell them that they basically made my family’s life possible. Without it, my life—and the lives of everyone in my family—would have been limited. I couldn’t thank them enough.
My parents always told me that if I made it in life, I should remember to help others. People living in abject poverty sometimes feel worthless. My parents taught me that everyone has a right to a sense of integrity and a sense of worth. I’ve tried to provide the best care that I could for the residents of Louisiana. I also go overseas to poverty-stricken areas, helping teach local surgeons.
I also made a promise to myself that I would give back to places and people who made my journey possible, which is why I give to Dartmouth. I want to make sure others have the same opportunity I had. Dartmouth took a chance on me and afforded me the opportunity to reach for the stars.