Commencement Stories — Ho Phi Huynh

From Vietnam to Arizona to Riverside to Georgia

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Ho Phi Huynh will take his Ph.D. in psychology to Savannah, Georgia, where he will join the faculty at Armstrong State University. Photo courtesy of Ho Phi Huynh

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — When Ho Phi Huynh receives his Ph.D. in psychology on Saturday, June 14, the milestone will be just the latest step along a long path that began many years before at his family’s home in Binh Phu, Vietnam, south of Saigon.

Huynh’s family — father Hon Cong, a former police officer for South Vietnam who survived more than five years in a North Vietnamese “reeducation camp” following the Vietnam War, mother Khiem Thi, sister Phuong, and brothers Long, Bang and Tien, came to the United States in 1995, seeking political and religious freedom. The family settled in  Tucson, Arizona and lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment. The parents and the oldest siblings went to work, while Huynh and his brother Tien went to school. He has strong memories of his brothers coming home from their work in a butcher shop.

“Given our strong Buddhist roots, their work in the butcher shop carried a lot of implications that made us uncomfortable, but they worked diligently until better opportunities arrived. Even as a nine-year-old kid, I can still remember that we were all praying that something better would come along soon,” he recalled.

Those opportunities did come and Huynh made the most of them, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree when he received a BS in psychology from the University of Arizona. He chose to pursue his Ph.D. at UC Riverside because of the campus’ diversity, the reputation of the psychology department, and the fact that the school was close to home, arriving at the campus in 2009. Like many students he initially had some doubts about whether or not he deserved to be here, but those were quickly quashed.

“Thankfully, I was surrounded by people who reassured that I belonged and that they struggled through the same doubts,” he said. “I am so fortunate to have met mentors who became friends and so many friends who became mentors. The collegial and family vibe of the psychology department is irreplaceable. There’s so much love and support from every angle — my advisor, my peers, the administration, and undergraduate students included.”

“Being a psychology graduate student has been the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life,” he added.

Huynh thanked his family for their support during his journey and said that he is happy to serve as an example for future generations.

“I think my family is happy to know that one of us made it to the apex of a profession and that there’s someone who future generations can look to and say, ‘if Ho did it, I can do it,’” he said. “I also hope that my family feels directly responsible for my success. Without their tangible and emotional support, I definitely would not have been able to pursue my education with the same vigor and freedom.”

Huynh’s next step is a big one. He and his fiancée, Amanda, will be moving to Savannah, Georgia, where he will join the faculty at Armstrong State University.

“The biggest battle during the job search was trying to decide where to put roots down to start our lives,” he said. “Amanda and I were really torn, decided on the ASU opportunity because it would signify our growth and spirit for adventure. We are absolutely thrilled about the upcoming move and the opportunities to entrench ourselves in new culture. We don’t know if we’ll be in Savannah forever, but we’re certainly excited that we get to begin something new — together.”

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