Stockton Scholar and Stanford student Princess Vongchanh ’23 reflects on their personal trajectory

A discussion with Vongchanh about the “boomerang effect”

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As college students returned to their hometowns and reconnected with their households during this pandemic — and I returned to Stockton — I was reminded of how things go around where I come from: the idea of graduating high school, leaving your hometown either for the workforce or higher education, and then coming back to serve the community has always been a practice for students from the Central Valley. We call it the boomerang effect.

The boomerang effect is seen through many of today’s Stockton Scholars. Last year, Stockton Scholars gave 1,300 scholarships to the Class of 2019. Stockton Scholars was launched in 2018 by the Reinvent Stockton Foundation, which is led by Mayor Michael Tubbs. The program guarantees two- or four-year scholarships to all Stockton students who enroll in higher education, trade school or traditional college. These students came from a variety of schools in the area, from Southside Stockton’s Edison High School to Northside Stockton’s Bear Creek and McNair High School.

According to the 2018 U.S. Census American Community Survey, Stockton had a high school graduation rate of 77.30% and a college graduation rate of 18.10%. Stockton Scholars is working hard to provide every senior class with scholarships to have those rates grow. One student in particular — motivated to continue their passion for learning in higher education and currently at Stanford — is a boomerang.

Princess Vongchanh ’23 (they/them), a rising sophomore majoring in Symbolic Systems and minoring in Astronomy, is a first-generation-low income student from Stockton. A product of Stockton Unified schools, Vongchanh is a founding Scholar of the Stockton Scholars program, Reinvent Stockton member and a Little Manila After School Program U.S. History Alum.

Currently, Vongchanh is an undergraduate senator in the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) along with other members of the People’s Caucus, a group of 10 who ran for ASSU together on a platform of racial and transformative justice. Before the elections, they mentioned that the group’s campaign “wasn’t the easiest,” especially since one of their rallies was “Zoom-bombed” by other individuals. Yet they won: all 10 members of the People’s Caucus were elected to the 2020-2021 Undergraduate Senate.

Vongchanh introduced a behavioral term coined by Stockton Scholars called a “brain-drain.” Brain-drain involves the ideas that, “to achieve success, you have to leave the city,” and, “to maintain it, you have to continue cultivating your success in some other sphere,” Vongchanh said. Originally, they subconsciously believed this statement because “that’s what a lot of other people around [them] believed.”

As a student from Stockton, I, too, shared that belief with Vongchanh. The idea that success is a composite of both a personal gain and returns for the community which shaped you has been instilled in me from a young age. But it is up to the youth to decide to improve the city or not. At home, Vongchanh is a community leader and activist, passionate about the Defunding of Stockton Unified Police movement and implementation of Ethnic Studies in Stockton Unified Schools.

From John Adams Elementary, to Bush Elementary, to Franklin High School and now Stanford University, they have always been a long-time learner and dreamer. “When you’re in a learning environment, it’s super possible to fall in love with your own imagination,”  said Vongchanh.

Contact Karlaine Francisco at itskarlaine ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Karlaine Francisco is a high school student writing as part of The Stanford Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.