Skip to main content


Athena Nguyen looking off a mountain holding a pack of crackers

Athena Nguyen looking off a mountain holding a pack of crackers

Take 5 with Athena Nguyen ’18

Getting to know the valedictorian of the Class of 2018.

Getting to know the valedictorian of the Class of 2018. 

Athena Nguyen ’18 describes the picture like this. She and her friend Emily Alonso ’18 were in Myanmar as part of the Global Social Benefit Fellows program. They had climbed a temple to watch the sunset when Nguyen looked back at her friend just in time for a photo to be snapped. She had thanaka (a cosmetic paste) on her face and a mouthful of peanut butter crackers. Not a classic pose, but she didn’t care.

“This photo captures a moment of pure bliss,” Nguyen says. “I am glad Emily took it for me.”

This is Nguyen’s favorite photo from college. Not her first day. Not a party. Not graduation. Just bliss. And there was plenty of bliss to go around for Nguyen at SCU, especially this Spring. Not only was she finishing up her degree in public health and political science, but in May she was named one of eight Fulbright winners for SCU. A couple weeks later, she was announced as valedictorian for the Class of 2018.

If you’re headed to commencement, you’ll hear plenty of insight about life from Nguyen. But in the meantime, you can learn a little about the woman behind the speech, in the form of her SCU favorites.

What was your favorite class at SCU and why?

“American Political Thought (POLI 107) with Dr. Timothy J. Lukes. The class was thought-provoking, challenging, and refreshing. Lukes holds his students to incredible standards and he pushes them to do their best.”

Who were your favorite professors or mentors at SCU?

“Dr. Timothy J. Lukes, Dr. Matthew Harrigan, Dr. Bill Mains, Pandora del Carmen, Keith Warner OFM, Dr. Thane Kreiner, Dr. Michelle Stecker, Dr. Katherine Saxton, Dr. Laura Chyu, and Laura Rosenberg—just to name a few. All of them have played instrumental roles in my development as a person for others.”

What’s the most excited you’ve been in the last four years? 

“When I got the Fulbright scholarship.”

What was your favorite club/event or extracurricular at Santa Clara?

“My favorite event was Love Jones.”

How would you describe yourself when you walked on campus for the first time?

“Naive and immature.”

How would you describe yourself now?

“Confident and mature—a person for others.”

How would you describe your growth over the past four years?

“I grew the most when I felt uncomfortable or challenged. When faced with adversity, I found strength in the nurturing support and encouragement from faculty, staff, friends, and family.”

What advice would you give your freshman self?

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Love yourself. Don't forget to tell people that you care about them.”

What GIF or meme best sums up your time at SCU?

 Student looks at hand to see encouraging message

What’s something you didn’t know about yourself when you got here that you do now?

“I can use my identity to build a mutual understanding across cultures and foster agency in others.”

What was your favorite time working on a team at SCU?

“Welcoming students to the community during Move-In Weekend with my Residence Life team.”

What’s next for you?

“I am going to Vietnam as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant!”

Where do you want to be in five years?

“I want to work in the Centers for Disease Control or in public health policy as an advocate for marginalized communities.”

How did Santa Clara prepare you to get there?

“Educating me to be a person for others. Emphasizing a holistic education. Creating an environment where I could create meaningful relationships with the faculty, staff, and students.”

What’s one item that you think represents your college experience or will remind you of your time here? 

“I think my graduation cap will represent my college experiences. Everything I have done as a part of SCU will be celebrated at graduation and I want to decorate my cap as a tribute to my parents and their selflessness.”

What’s your SCU bucket list—stuff you have to do (or do again) before you leave?

“Spend time with the faculty, staff, and friends that I love and taking a walk in Mission Gardens.”



Top Stories, Features