Derek Nguyen: Building Bridges to Success

Within the Nguyen household, the word “có gắng” is heavily emphasized. This means “work hard” in Vietnamese. It was the philosophy that Derek Nguyen (Class of 2000) had implemented throughout his life, and later inspired his nieces and nephews to follow by. As an immigrant from Vietnam, Derek had to adjust to a new and foreign environment, with little English-language proficiency. He enrolled at GGHS as a freshman and had only been in the U.S for one and a half years. Nevertheless, within 3 years of his arrival, he had caught up with the other students and no longer took introductory courses. In his junior and senior year, he had no problem assimilating into the American culture. Through his accomplishments, Derek graduated with “cum laude”, or great honor,  and received Vice President of the Year for Key Club, along with numerous recognitions for his involvement in various student activities. His accomplishments proved that there is no limit to success and anything is possible. 

For as long as he can remember, Derek expresses, “I’ve always enjoyed constructing and designing; I knew this was the career for me.” Derek’s favorite subjects in school were math and science. His interests would later inspire him to pursue an engineering career. He viewed math as “a universal language, that if spoken correctly, most people will understand.” While other languages in the world use letters to form words to express certain meanings, math uses symbols and numbers. He states,

“When one writes 2+2 = 4, he/she is expressing that if you use two of anything and you add two more of the same thing, you will get a total of four of them. It’s a way of expressing a meaning without using words. The same works with more complicated math, whether you’re learning trigonometry or differential equations, it’s simply a way to express something more deeply and profoundly. Similar to a poem or a proverb, there’s more than what’s on the surface. At first, it might appear to be complicated, but if one understands what the problem is trying to say, one would know its true meaning and appreciate its elegant way of expressing that meaning.”

To him, learning math was no different than learning Spanish or Latin; it was simply a language with symbols and numbers.

Like most students, he juggled between his academics and extracurricular activities. He was the Performing Arts Commissioner for ASB, the Vice President for Key Club, and an active member of the Argos Club, Ambassador Club, and Vietnamese Students Association. His fond memories at GGHS revolved around the pep rallies, volunteering events, and all the activities he did with ASB including the talent show, fashion show, etc. Although he never formally joined a sports team, Derek was always physically active and participated in the PE activities offered during class, including basketball, volleyball, tennis, badminton, and swim. 

Reflecting back on his time at Garden Grove High School, he describes the academic and sports programs at GGHS as “terrific and very competitive.” Derek adds, “Some classes were a bit more difficult than others. With school work and a multitude of extracurricular activities, I had to juggle between my priorities and maintain good grades in order to get into a good college. Many of my peers got accepted to exceptional universities!”

But through it all, these factors made his high school experience all the more worthwhile.

After high school, Derek attended Cal Poly Pomona and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. He then went on to study at Cal State Fullerton and received his Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Derek didn’t stop there–he decided to further his education and study at UCI to earn his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Engineering. He is currently working as a professional registered engineer with the position of Project Manager in the Public Works Department for the City of Beverly Hills, California. 

The future continues to hold endless possibilities and opportunities for Derek. With hard work and determination, he plans to propel further in his education and career. Derek’s agenda is filled with endless goals. Within the next year, he hopes to get married, travel, enjoy the fruits of his labor, and advance his professional career in the civil engineering field. If time permits, Derek plans to teach part-time as a professor at UCLA while continuing his work in the city of Beverly Hills.

Garden Grove High School lives by the motto, “pride, performance, and the pursuit of excellence.” As a product of Garden Grove High School, Derek has instilled these values throughout his life, leading him to a path of success.