Cherry tress on the UW quad.

Connecting with Obama

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Simon Tran and other young leaders meeting with Barack Obama.
"I felt so heard and seen by President Obama," says Simon Tran, second from left. "His investment and curiosity in young people was both genuine and energizing." Photo courtesy of the Obama Foundation. 

It’s a meeting Simon Tran will never forget. On May 13, the UW alum was among six young leaders invited to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss their careers in public service. “This was easily the most surreal experience I’ve ever had,” says Tran (BA, Drama, Comparative History of Ideas (CHID), Diversity minor, 2016). “Meeting President Obama felt like a dream.”

For the past five years, Tran has worked in public media, journalism, and the nonprofit world, aiming to diversify media platforms and amplify the stories of BIPOC communities. In August, he will head to Vietnam as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching English to high schoolers and using theatre and storytelling to expand educational pedagogy and language learning.

In 2019, Tran participated in the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps Program for young leaders. The recent hour-long meeting with President Obama was related to the launch of another Obama Foundation program, The Voyager Scholarship.

Here, Tran answers a few questions about the meeting.

What was the focus of the conversation with President Obama?

I was invited, alongside five other young leaders, to talk about our paths in public service, how travel has expanded our world perspective, and the importance of support for young leaders who want to do public service but feel like this work is not attainable or sustainable.

I shared how valuable the arts have been in my journey to represent the public through storytelling and media...

Simon Tran BA, Drama, Comparative History of Ideas, Diversity minor, 2016
portrait of Simon Tran

Did your UW education come up in the conversation?

It did. I talked about my degrees in Drama and CHID, and how I took the skills I gained from Drama to tell more intentional stories that better reflected communities. I also talked about my CHID Study Abroad Program to Peru, where I learned how art can be used for social change and healing. I shared how valuable the arts have been in my journey to represent the public through storytelling and media, giving me purpose to produce more than just "art," but rather something that can tangibly shape people's livelihoods. I think my interdisciplinary studies in college and background in the arts and community advocacy align well with the work the Obama Foundation continues to do for young/diverse leaders around the world. 

What did being selected for this opportunity mean to you?

I felt so heard and seen by President Obama. His investment and curiosity in young people was both genuine and energizing. It's been a hard few years, both professionally and personally, but being invited to this meeting proves that trying to stay optimistic, following your passions, and making genuine connections with other leaders can present unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Also, as a kid of Vietnamese refugees, it was so humbling that people in my network remembered who I was and advocated for me to be there. I feel proud and honored that I got a chance to represent my community and people who have similar experiences/identities to my own. 

Simon Tran in front of Obama Foundation sing.

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