Oliver Nguyen: Feature Story


Ian McGuire, Staff Writer

It was a picturesque morning in downtown Tokyo, Japan. The city was already buzzing, and the beaming light of the morning sun weaved its way through skyscrapers on the horizon. Sitting in the path of the beaming light was a middle school. This wasn’t just any school, it was where Oliver Nguyen, 13 years old, was this morning. All of the classrooms and kids were waiting in excited anticipation, it was the last day of the semester. It was a celebratory day, and to remember the semester, students and teachers signed pillowcases for each other as a class activity. As Oliver floated his way through his class collecting signatures from friends, he found his way, wandering over to the teacher. As he handed over his pillowcase, he searched for who to ask for another signature added to his collection. When his pillowcase was returned from his teacher, Oliver traveled across the room, taking a quick glance at what his teacher wrote. He stopped. After doing a double take, Oliver thought This can’t be right, as his gut wrenched. To understand the significance of what came next though, one has to take a step back.

Oliver Nguyen, then 13 years old, was born in Arlington, Texas in 2005. And, as suitable as it was for the Nguyen family, they moved around quite a bit when Oliver was young. Although this moving proved to be exhausting, it also helped to mold Nguyen as a person. He is Bilingual, due to the fact that his parents both speak Japanese, and he experienced many cultures through his travels. Their father’s job opportunities are what kept them moving, he works as upper level management for beverage creations, and is also involved in research. All of these job opportunities took the family to places in Texas, including Arlington and Fort Worth, where his father had also gone to college.

After that the family soon made their way to Connecticut. “It was around 2011 when we moved to Connecticut,” says Claire Nguyen, his sister. Connecticut, a vast difference from Texas, was going to be a challenge to adjust to. Arlington Texas is a football loving southern suburb, and one of the most influential cities in America, Dallas, is just a small drive away. The Nguyens enjoyed their time spent in Texas. And, as great as this was for the family, it was all to be left behind for Connecticut. And what’s in Connecticut?

“[Oliver and I] didn’t know much about Connecticut because we were little, but we knew it was going to be different,” his sister adds. They adjusted well, and seemed to be alright. But, Connecticut lasted just a short period of time. The family decided to take their largest pivot yet. Tokyo, Japan. This appeared to be the biggest challenge of Oliver’s life, and it was frightening to him. A new country, new culture, and a new life were all in order. Yes, he was uncertain, but he was also excited. Oliver was excited to experience some of his family’s culture, to move to a big city, and to find what Tokyo had to offer. And although moving to Japan was a big change for Oliver, it wasn’t a bad one. Everything began to slow down, and it seemed as if the family had settled down too. And this was true. For the first time in a long time, they had their place. Oliver and Claire had school with friends they had made, and had the largest city in the world outside their windows, too. 

“The schools were challenging, but overall they were great,” Oliver mentions, “It felt like they were four years ahead of the United States schools,” he elaborates. Even though this posed a challenge for Oliver, he endured it and thrived under the new school system. He had straight A’s consistently throughout his primary school, and continued that into middle school. Of course it took a moment to adjust, but Oliver’s adjustment was extremely fast, in part because of his bilingualism. His academics weren’t the only thing going well for him either. Oliver started playing tennis at a young age, and sharpened his skills in Tokyo, playing against a wide variety of people, although this was mostly recreational. In addition to tennis, Oliver also kept up with his English speaking. At this point, Oliver was completely fluent in both English and Japanese. This is extremely rare, as only two percent of the Japanese population is fluent in both languages. And not only that, but Oliver had picked up the trombone as a hobby, too. Even though all of these things were going well, that wasn’t everything to him. Although he was succeeding on paper, Oliver felt like he never actually fit in. Despite all of the extracurricular activities and sports, he didn’t ever feel popular. There were pre existing friendships and cliques, and he felt as if he was late to the party. And so, life went on. Oliver adjusted and kept going, like he always had. 

And so, here we are. It was a bright and radiant morning in Tokyo, the last day of Oliver’s semester at school. The class was engaging in many celebratory activities, playing games, and signing pillowcases for each other, like a yearbook. Oliver was feeling particularly good this morning, his friends and classmates were all signing his pillowcase, and he felt like a part of the group. He wandered over to his teacher for an autograph, and stood there, reflecting on who to approach next. As his case was returned from his teacher, he thanked her and began to move across the room. He looked down to see what she had written. He paused, and read it again. Two, three, four more times, in a state of confusion. We’ll miss you. 

“What do you mean we’re moving?”, Oliver half heartedly exclaimed towards his parents, later that evening. 

“We’re going back to the US,” his father said, looking Oliver in the eye. “We’re going to Colorado.”

Only a month later, Oliver awaited his new life to begin. He was doing his best to be optimistic as he always had when they moved. Oliver was about to start eighth grade, and his new school, Soaring Heights, was just across the street. He quickly found his way in school and adjusted to the new area. During eighth grade, he finished with straight A’s, even with his 2020 school year being cut short by the pandemic. Oliver quickly developed good relationships with his classmates and teachers. Through in person and virtual learning, he became especially close with one teacher in particular. The teacher? Josh Kirkwood, the band director. 

“Mr. Kirkwood was definitely one of the most impactful teachers and people when I moved here,” says Oliver, “his class definitely helped me through the early stages of moving and the pandemic,” he reflects. Kirkwood is known as being one of the best musicians and teachers among those who come across him, and Oliver was grateful for his presence. The gratitude was retaliated from Kirkwood, too. 

“He’s always been a fantastic young man to work with,” says Kirkwood, “he’s always been a star,” and many would agree with Kirkwood, including Oliver’s younger sister, Claire. 

“It’s been great getting to watch Oliver grow and achieve all of his goals,” she says proudly. He also receives great support from his peers in high school, too. Oliver got involved in student government during his freshman year, which proved to be a successful move on his part. As for his sophomore year, he was elected by his class for a small official role in StuGo. And fast forward to this year, and Oliver was elected junior class president at Erie High School. He’s also a member of the jazz band, and captain of the varsity tennis team. On the tennis team, Oliver plays one singles, the top position on the team. This year, he made it to the final round of regionals in the state competition. And for his role in student government, he’s often planning school events, such as homecoming and prom. In addition to that, you’ll find him helping to run the Erie High StuGo social media accounts. Next year, he plans to run for student body president as well. 

“It’s been awesome seeing the kind of progress I’ve made the past few years and seeing what I can accomplish,” Oliver says. It’s undeniable that Oliver has faced adversity during his life, but the adversity shaped him. His world experience, bilingualism, and knowledge of different places helped to mold him into the person that he is today. And as for what’s next in his life, he plans on going to school to be a doctor of some sort, and possibly on a tennis scholarship as well. 

“I’m not sure exactly what I want to major in yet, but I know that I want to go into the medical field,” he adds. Regardless of what he does in college, the growth and strides that he’s made the last few years are undeniable. He’s been nothing but a success, whether it’s in his grades, tennis, band, or student government. The future is bright.