Grieving to greatness: Duy Tran shares his story

Duy Tran warms up before Wind Symphony rehearsal on the xylophone. 
Photo credit: Bleu Bell

“Be safe.” These are the last words Asian-American Florida A&M University (FAMU) scholar Duy Tran said to his godparents before their lives were taken by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Tran, a second-year pharmacy student from Fort Lauderdale, finds solace in his academics, volunteer work and ensuring every move he makes displays resilience and hope for himself and his younger brother, David Tran.

“There’s always a way out. I was ready to give up. I was shattered. But I believe it was the power of Christ that woke me up and said, ‘keep going,’” Duy said.

Duy describes himself as a minority among other minorities. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Duy Tran never met his biological parents but considered his godparents a true support system. Now, with dreams of getting his Ph.D. and “destroying diseases,” he is studying pharmacy at FAMU while his brother is suffering from health complications back in Fort Lauderdale.

During the second semester of his freshman year, Duy realized Buddhism was not working out for him, so he decided to try something new.

“One of the mantras in Buddhism is basically do good and you will receive well. So, I was literally only doing good things so I would receive them. It made me feel like a toxic person. Then one day, my freshman brother, William Ricketts, invited me to church,” said Tran when describing his relationship with his Marching “100” family.

“He (Tran) has grown so much since we first met, and I see him slowly coming out of his comfort zone,” Ricketts said.

His favorite moment so far of his college career was opening for the Marching “100” at the Battle of the Bands the night before the 2016 Florida Blue Florida Classic. With the spotlight on him and thousands of eyes watching his every move, Duy did the unthinkable and played a four-minute piano solo upside down and with his feet.

“Duy is one of the most talented percussionist, pianist band members in the FAMU band program,” said Shelby Chipman, Director of Marching and Pep Bands at FAMU.

“More importantly, he fosters the attributes in our band motto: character, academics, musicianship, marching, leadership, and dedication. We are truly proud to have him in our band program.”

After the death of his godparents, a text announcement was sent by Chipman to all band members reminding them to pray for Duy. The amount of love in the hundreds of messages he received showed the percussionist he was not alone.  

Duy views Chipman as more than a professor and band director, but as a role model because of their similar drive for greatness. The pharmacy scholar is ambitious and outspoken in all of his organizations, making him a familiar face on campus.

The Marching “100” is only one of the many organizations that Duy calls both home and family. He is a member of the Omicron Gamma Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity of America Inc., Phi Sigma Theta National Honor Society, Big Bend Community Orchestra, Collegiate 100, American Chemistry Society and Active Minds.

“Being Asian at an HBCU has its pros and cons. I’m a minority, so I will always call attention to myself no matter what. I use it to draw positive attention to my ideas, so my voice will be heard. On the downside, I can’t relate to anyone,” said Tran, reflecting on his experience on “the Hill.”

Duy came to FAMU specifically to study pharmacy and being involved in so many organizations on campus helped him grieve and fill out his extensive resume, but he never forgets the real reason he came to college.

“To make the world a better place. Rather you believe it or not, someone is always suffering more than you and still living. Great people never give up,” he said.