LEXINGTON — Lexington High School’s student body president thinks he is finally being true to himself.
Daniel Nguyen, a 17-year-old senior, said becoming involved in school activities made a positive difference in his life, so he seeks to draw others in. His goal is to bring everyone together.
Nguyen moved to Lexington from Grand Island in fall 2011, his junior year. Before, that he lived in Lincoln.
While growing up in Lincoln, he faced language and cultural challenges as a Vietnamese who didn’t speak English. He is grateful for a third-grade teacher who took extra time with him one on one so he could learn to read.
In Grand Island, he made the wrong friends and was headed on the wrong path.
“I didn’t really make good choices for myself or for others,” he said. Despite those struggles, he still did well academically. “As much trouble as I got in, I thought school was something I could take pride in, and it kept me on track.”
In ninth grade, Nguyen’s mother, Tam Dang, moved to Lexington, but Nguyen stayed behind with his older sisters. When one sister started dating a guy he didn’t get along with, Nguyen decided it was time for a change.
He said he moved to Lexington with the attitude that he would give it a shot. He said he wasn’t in the best of shape, but had made some improvements through boxing and wanted to do more.
As Nguyen enrolled in school, someone at the central office asked if he liked any sports. Although Nguyen hadn’t participated in sports previously, he said he liked running. He was told that cross-country training was under way, and that the team and coach Sam Jilka would be contacted so he could join. He admits he didn’t know what cross-country was.
“I started running and kept running,” Nguyen said. “I wasn’t the best, but I made varsity my first year.”
Nguyen was introduced to team captain Franklin Ibarra and found a friend and a role model.
Friends make a difference, he said.
“That experience of being part of a team, not having to make bad decisions to fit in (propelled me in the right direction),” Nguyen said. He said he once did “horrible things, the kind that don’t take you the places you want to go in the future.”
Because he liked being part of a team and craved more unity, he decided to continue in sports. He tried basketball next. When track season came around, it felt like a cross-country reunion, Nguyen said. He competed in distance events and also tried pole vault.
At the beginning of the current school year, Nguyen heard talk about student council and wondered if he could be a leader at Lexington High School. When he questioned teacher and student council sponsor Hana Mach, she said speeches were due the next day for administrative approval and would be presented to the entire student body the following day.
Nguyen said he stayed up all night writing a speech. He thought of all the things the school and students needed and all the things they didn’t need. The issue that stood out most was uniting everyone.
He noticed segregation when he entered the school — between those who participated in sports and those who don’t and between racial and cultural differences.
Nguyen said he has worked to get more students involved in school activities through attending sporting events such as football and basketball games and by creating events to bring people together.
True to his word in his campaign speech, he organized a fitness program for all students but especially geared toward people who aren’t in sports. Workouts are announced at school, and typically take place at 6 p.m. after practices end. Nguyen said the program includes activities such as boxing, running, sprints and stamina work.
“People say it’s a challenge the first day, but if they come back they say, ‘I’m getting the hang of it,’” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said he once weighed 165 pounds and exercise was a key to change.
“I got in shape. I took pride in that,” he said.
Nguyen said he also hopes to organize an ethnic food cook-off and bake sale and some dances. He wants students to get together, to learn to know each other more so they won’t be afraid to interact and won’t be scared to accept others.
He plans to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney after he graduates but is unsure what he will major in.
“I will never regret anything that happened in my past because every little thing built me up to where I am today, and I’m happy with who I am today,” Nguyen said.