Vy Tran

Beating the Odds: Celebrating Our 2012 Crawford T. Johnson Scholar

The Crawford T. Johnson Scholarship is a $20,000 Scholarship given every other year to the “most inspirational” student from that class.  It was first awarded in 1998 and is named for Crawford Toy Johnson, III, who served as the Chairman of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation from 1986 to 1996. Crawford was instrumental in creating the Foundation to commemorate Coca-Cola’s centennial in 1986. He was a strong proponent of education and believed that Coca-Cola should support the leadership development of young people and their desire for higher education. To salute his commitment to education and his inspiration of so many, The Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association funded the Crawford T. Johnson Scholarship Award.

This year the Crawford T. Johnson Scholarship goes to 2012 Coca-Cola Scholar Vy Tran from Seattle, WA. When you read her story below, it is easy to see why she was chosen as the 2012 “most inspirational” Scholar.

On February 17, 2012, I received a phone call from Mark Davis, the President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. To be honest, I thought it was Coca-Cola’s way of consoling their non-finalists before letting them know how close they were to making it. Fearing this, I was excited to hear the excitement in Mark’s voice and the applause in the background.  Wait, applause? My heart skipped a beat when their staff announced that I was not only a 2012 Coca-Cola Scholar, but also a Crawford Johnson (Most Inspirational) Scholar. Instead of returning to class, I frolicked around every floor in my school releasing the news.

I never thought that such prestigious awards were tangible, especially not for someone like me. I was born into a family of street vendors and nomads in the southern slums of Vietnam. Every day was a struggle as my family of twelve (most of whom did not finish high school) resorted to backbreaking manual labor to bring food back to our one-room, aluminum-plated house. Growing up, I was taught that learning to sell food in the streets was more important than an education.  At that time, my life had no direction, no meaning or purpose.

Vy TranHowever, an experience selling on a street corner changed me.  A young, white woman gave me a free notebook and pencil on behalf of an American program visiting Vietnam’s countryside.  It meant the world to me that she cared. When her translator whispered to me that the American woman was once poor before attending school, an epiphany hit me. I envied her freedom, her education, and her ability to help others.  At that moment, I wanted more than anything to contribute to society instead of always being on the receiving end. It is this passion to give back and  to leave a lasting impression on those who need help the most that has guided me, in all areas of life, to heal, to lead, and to provide for my community.

It amazes me how much impact a drop of compassion can have. My mom introduced me to the world of volunteering when she urged me to serve food at the local mission to those who were living in a state of homelessness. Though many other obstacles have tested my limits in life, the feeling I receive from giving back never fails to ease some of the pain. Volunteering soon became an obsession for me. As president of seven service/ recreational organizations in and around my community, I make sure the spirit of volunteerism is rooted firmly in all of our endeavors. Whether I am restoring herbal gardens for my neighborhood, creating networks of volunteer opportunities for my peers at school or fundraising thousands of dollars to human-rights and shelter-relocation causes abroad, I have realized that all it takes to make a difference is drive, compassion, and a little inspiration. If there is one thing I wish to instill into the people who have been told that they can’t, it is:

“If this little street urchin can do it, so can you.”

Vy will be attending the University of Washington this fall.  She plans to study Business Administration and Biology as she works towards her dream of becoming a medical oncologist, researcher, and contributor to her community.

Her favorite part about the Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend in Atlanta, was “bonding with other Scholars and being surrounded by a network of successful, compassionate people who have softspots for giving back to their communities, for changing the course of humanity, and for delicious carbonated drinks.”


Here is a quick update on previous Crawford Johnson Scholarship winners:

Sara McDonnall (1998) graduated from University of Northern Colorado in 2002 with her Bachelors degree in nursing.  She just completed her Masters of Science in nursing at University of Colorado and is a Clinical Nurse Specialist.  She is a faculty member at the University of Colorado College of Nursing in Denver and enjoys shaping the next generation of nurses.

Jessica (Gowac) Stone (2000) graduated in 2005 with degrees in Sustainable Agriculture, Natural Resource Management, Environmental Studies, and Education.  She has since moved back to her hometown of East Haddam, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and 17-month-old son.  Jess teaches at a private high school, Franklin Academy, and is also an organic farmer. She currently serves on two town commissions and just recently started a not-for-profit organization to begin a community farm for gardeners, as well as new and beginning farmers.

Ana Huang (2004) graduated from Harvard with a degree in Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality. She spent three years in Beijing, China as a grassroots activist for the local lesbian movement. She will begin a Ph.D program in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University in the fall.

Chad Anderson (2006) graduated from LSU with a degree in Communication Disorders (2011). He now lives in Hattiesburg, MS., where he is a Special Education teacher and serves on the Board of Directors for the ARC of Southeast Mississippi.

Austin Lee Brown (2008) graduated from Northern Kentucky University this May with degrees in film and women’s studies. As an undergraduate, he founded the Out Film Festival, Kentucky’s first international LGBTQ film festival. Austin is currently in the process of relocating to New York City for a film internship with the Museum of the Moving Image beginning next month.

Maria Taha (2010) will be in Morocco this summer studying Arabic. She is a rising Junior at Wellesley College majoring in Peace & Justice Studies with a concentration in Literacy and Inequality in Education. Next year, she looks forward to spending her Spring semester in Cape Town, South Africa.