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01/19/2012

Earl Woods Scholar reflects on four years

UCLA's Jenny Nguyen shares what she's learned
Scholar Jenny Nguyen brings the crowd to tears at the graduation luncheon. Scholar Jenny Nguyen brings the crowd to tears at the graduation luncheon.

This is my fourth year as an Earl Woods Scholar. I went back to the Tiger Woods Learning Center for another two-day Winter Workshop, and I was completely shocked by how much the program has grown. Four years ago, there were 10 scholars. This winter, the entire dining room was full, and I didn't even know everyone's name. I saw so many new faces, so many freshmen embarking on their college careers, making me feel a little old.

I looked to fellow graduates, and I knew that they were all thinking the same thing. Sue, Steven, Vina, Fatou, Evan and Grace -- I feel like I've known these guys forever. We go to schools all over the United States, but somehow are always able to make it back to Anaheim to see each other at least once every year. Remember how much fun we had cleaning out smelly cages at the Orange County Zoo? Or how good we felt after making cookies and pastries for the kids at Orangewood Children's Home? Bringing tears to an elderly woman's eyes when we spent all day repainting her home ... I will never forget interning at the Tiger Woods Learning Center with Omar, Sue and Vina. Those afternoons when we snuck out back to hit a few golf balls on the driving range were some of the best memories I've ever had.

So there we all were, enjoying some of our last moments in the Earl Woods Scholarship Program. This time, I really tried to let go and enjoy the moment as it came and went. If I've learned anything these last four years, it is to keep an open mind and to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of me, no matter how nervous they make me. This time around, I told myself to just have fun, and that's exactly what I did. I even enjoyed my mock interviews, a sentiment I rarely ever express about interviews. I was interviewed by Reuters' sports reporter Mark Lamport-Stokes. Mark and I hit it off immediately. It was nice to be interviewed by someone who is a writer as well. The interview felt more like a conversation, and I realized how much I've learned and grown since my first year in college. If I had gone to the same interview four years ago, I would've stuttered like Porky Pig.

Day 2 meant speech day. I've known that this day would come for an entire year. I don't like doing speeches, especially goodbye speeches, because they make me cry. I don't like crying. I really thought I'd be OK after running through my speech many times with staff and not shedding a single tear.

Then it was time ... Fatou went first, our first graduate of the year. We are all so proud of him. He pumped up the entire room and is such a natural public speaker. Then Sue made her speech. Out of all the scholars, it's safe to say that Sue is my best friend. (I remember taking her fishing one summer and kicking her butt at it. That was fun.) But Sue did what I did not want her to do, which was get emotional. I found myself tearing up while listening to her speech. I even tried drowning her out by singing "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" in my head. ... Well, that didn't work. So I gave my speech. I got choked up. And I felt so relieved when it was finally over. It felt like a strange mixture of pride, gratitude and a little sadness.

I am excited for myself. I am excited for the future. But I'm also excited for all the new Earl Woods Scholars that I met at the Winter Workshop. In four years, they will understand what we graduates have felt. They'll stand at that podium with the past four years of their lives running wildly through their heads and feel thankful for each and every moment.