High School Reunion
High School Reunion
In the shadow of a French era building I am the only American sitting in a courtyard filled with hundreds of women and a smattering of men.
Costumed drummers, fashionable ladies in designer suits, pearls, and ao dai, young high school students and ageless beauties as old as the event being commemorated; the 95th anniversary of Trung Vuong High School.
The story of the Trung sisters – revolutionary leaders and icons who rallied the Vietnam nation against the Chinese a millennium ago – are celebrated in song and dance, but there are also folk tunes, school songs, Viet Rap and a French ballad a la Edith Piaf, along with speeches, awards and memories.
Like much education of a certain vintage, Trung Vuong began in Hanoi under the influence of the French. In the early fifties it relocated to Saigon and operated, independently, as a school for girls until 1975 and now is co-ed. During its heyday it was among the most prestigious schools for young women in Vietnam and its alumni network – from throughout Vietnam to Southern California, Texas, Paris and beyond is impressive.
After 1975 the educational landscape in Vietnam changed with private education abolished and its’ graduates part of the Vietnamese diaspora. With the advent of “Doi Moi” (liberalization) in the 1990’s, the visit of Bill Clinton in 2000 and joining the WTO Vietnam has been on a mission with government investment in education at all levels along with private investment in “Western-style” schools and programs.
Quality varies and some schools hang a shingle outside but lack substance within. Others misrepresent their affiliations abroad and misuse the names American, British or whatever external validator that looks good on a logo. Standards will rise, the phonies sorted out and the day wll come when schools throughout the country with dedicated alumni like Trung Vuong’s gather for reunions and reminiscing.
A number of schools, however, are emerging with such potential. Saigon South feels and looks like Gulliver Prep in Miami Florida which my children attended when young. APU International School (of which I am a director) has a California curriculum, strong general education classes, co-curricular clubs and organizations and a successful pipeline to the educational Promised Land – the USA – as well as engaged alumni after only a decade. The graduates of these schools, and others, will someday gather for their own reminiscing decades from now.
After the four hour long program ended, after the dragon dancers, singers, awards and ceremonies, someone turned to me and asked “do you have this in the US”? I thought about American college reunions and homecomings, usually wrapped around sporting events, tailgate parties, and the like and answered, “Yes, we have this too – it’s same – same, but different”.