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The engineer that could

"I am hard working, responsible and dedicated ... "

"I will do my best to be your Student Council Representative ... "

These are the usual speeches you might expect from Student Council candidates who ran in the Council election Nov. 2-4.

And then there was first-year Engineering student Thinh Nguyen.

"Wasssssuuuup!!! Okay, my name is Thinh! As in Thinh can, or Thinh is the man! You know -- like Sn on the Periodic Table."

With only two minutes to prepare and about that same amount of time to speak, Nguyen's Council speech to the Engineering School's CHEM 151 class was anything but rehearsed. But judging by the rowdy shouts and chants of "Thinh" afterward, evidently it was also anything but boring.

"If you have good information but present it badly, it means nothing," Nguyen explained, his animated hands and alert eyes constantly in motion as he spoke. "But if you have minimum information, like I did, and just entertain everyone, it's so much better."

Nguyen's fame began when first-year Engineering student Rebecca Um asked Chemistry Prof. Thomas Walters if she could make a campaign speech during his class. All first-year students in the Engineering School are required to take the class, and this was one of the rare moments she could speak to everyone at once. Um dressed for the occasion, prepared a speech and approached the Student Council election with the seriousness one would expect characterizes any representative hopeful.

"When she asked, I had no problem with it," Walters said. "But I knew I'd have to give the other kids a chance too."

Enter Thinh Nguyen: One of about 10 other Student Council hopefuls in the first-year class. Caught off guard when Walters opened the mike up for other candidates speeches, Nguyen said he quickly realized the best way to get noticed would be to steer clear of the usual "vote-for-me-because-I'm-the-best" route.

Pounding on the table, constantly checking his microphone and making statements like, "I am not a good leader, but I will make a good representative," Thinh won over the eager crowd faster than a shouting wrestler in a WWF ring.

"If anyone else had made the speech he did, it would have probably just sounded rude," said Um, who ultimately won the election with Thinh. "But with Thinh, you saw it as a sign of leadership. Also, it was just really funny."

"Yes, I don't recall the entire speech, but I do recall that there was a lot of laughter," Walters said. "It was a good time."

But for Nguyen, this ability to please the crowd did not come easy. Arriving in America from Vietnam when he was nine years old, Nguyen said he spoke only broken English.

"I learned the hard way that you have to know how to communicate if you want to succeed in this country," he said. "Oftentimes I knew what I wanted to say, but couldn't say it exactly in English."

"It was very frustrating, especially on the playground and stuff," he added. "In eighth grade, I ran for the student council association and had to make a speech in front of the entire school. I was so nervous and was just reading from my written speech, since that was all I could say with confidence.

"When I finished my speech, I just wanted to go sit down, but suddenly a teacher asked me a question -- like 'If you were elected, what would you do to improve the school?'" Nguyen said.

"And all I could say was 'I would do things such as ... such as ... ' Everything got so silent. And I must have said that like, 10 times. Then finally, the teacher just said, 'Okay Thinh. You can go sit down now.' It was so awful -- I was all red and shaking. After that, I promised myself that I would never let anyone embarrass me like that again," he said.

Determined to improve his confidence in speaking, Nguyen enrolled in a speech class in ninth grade and a drama class his senior year.

"I just know that being unusual gets people's attention, and after having such a hard time speaking, I always go out of my way to make sure people listen to me," Nguyen said.

When asked if he ever would consider a career in law with such an interest in oration, Nguyen shook his head emphatically.

"Lawyers are a lot like this," Nguyen said, flipping his hand back and forth. "They're always trying to turn facts around. I don't like that."

Although he said he didn't want to waste time talking about his resume during his short speech, he added that he does like the fact that he has had some experience in student government.

"When I was in high school, I was on the Principal's School Plan," Nguyen said. "I represented students on the academic committee, which consisted of parents and faculty, and advised on courses and scheduling. But basically, the board just put me in a big comfy armchair at the end of a long table and turned to me for my opinion when they wanted it. It was the best job ever."

And although it is uncertain as to whether big comfy armchairs will be provided at Student Council meetings, with his flair for speaking and outgoing personality, Nguyen is confident that being a representative still will be even better.


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