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From "Poor and Traumatized at Harvard" to Creating Social Impact

By Rahul Kothari

May 15, 2018

Due Quach (pronounced "Zway Kwok") by any measure is an accomplished person: a graduate degree from Wharton, an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a successful career in management consulting and private equity. While most would think those achievements would have led to happiness, in actuality there was still an emptiness and yearning for more meaning and fulfillment.

As a Vietnamese refugee who fled to America with her family as a young child and a first-generation college student, Due quietly endured the effects of poverty and the trauma associated with the feelings of anxiety that came with not feeling like she fit in to the world she had worked so hard to create for herself. If not for a soul-searching blog post in early 2016, most of us would have never come to know her full story. "Poor and traumatized at Harvard" provided a sort of catharsis and healing through publicly sharing the deeper feelings that plagued her for so many years—feelings that had caused her so much stress and confusion. She had earlier written other blog posts which only close friends had taken the time to read and when she posted this one, she expected the same. But this post was different. She really exposed her vulnerability and in doing so, it struck a chord—to the tune of over 250,000 views. She was overcome by the outpouring of support and taken aback by how many people said that they shared her experiences. At the time, she was focused on developing the Calm Clarity Program to enable others who experienced similar challenges to apply neuroscience to "mind hack" their brain to build the resilience and self-mastery needed to overcome adversity. (TarcherPerigee Penguin Random House releases her moving and inspiring book, Calm Clarity: How to Use Science to Rewire Your Brain for Greater Wisdom, Fulfillment, and Joy, on May 15, 2018).

Even though she was already very busy building Calm Clarity, the many moving messages she received from first-generation college students who read her post compelled Due to found a new not-for-profit organization called the Collective Success Network (CSN) whose mission is to support low-income, first-generation college students in achieving their academic, personal, and professional aspirations. The Collective Success Network has a unique model that involves empowering student leaders to co-create programming and drive change at their campuses and collaborating with the wider business community to create innovative approaches to foster socioeconomic diversity and inclusion. CSN already has chapters at 3 universities (UPenn, Drexel and Temple) and when we saw her last, Due was hosting a party for almost 100 student participants and professional volunteers to celebrate CSN’s one year anniversary. The participants in CSN spoke of how impactful the program had been for them in fostering a sense of community and belonging and the volunteers were so proud to have been able to contribute and pay it forward so others might not have to experience the feelings of isolation many of them had. Many remarked on how inspirational Due was and how thankful they were to be involved with such a worthy cause.

It was as if Due was that first stone thrown into the pond and the ripples of more positivity were emanating from that stone right before our eyes. One can only imagine how those ripples will turn to waves, eventually becoming big enough to come crashing down on the barriers that separate us. The empathy that Due created by giving us a first-hand account of what it was like to walk in her shoes gave many the voice they couldn't before find and many others a sense of hope and optimism they hadn’t felt before. From that common foundation a community was borne and we take another step towards a better existence.

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