Kevin Truong, one of the 104 students in the Class of 2020, draws inspiration as a journalist from his own life story. He was born in 1982 in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur after his mother fled Saigon on a crowded fishing boat with his two older sisters and aunt. During a harrowing 11 days at sea, the vessel was attacked by pirates who looted the gold onboard, raped some of the women, and stole the motor, forcing passengers to fashion sails out of rice bags.
He spent the first eight months of his life in the Malaysian camp until his mother’s older sister, who had married a U.S. soldier, sent for the family to live in Portland, Ore. There, they were finally able to settle down into some semblance of normalcy.
“Having this figure like my mother, who is one of the bravest women I know, draws me to storytelling,” he said. “I want to be a journalist who can find people like my mom and give them platforms to tell their stories.”
Kevin’s first foray into journalism was as a photographer. After working for a few years in nonprofits, including a short stint in the Peace Corps, he started taking photography classes and wound up getting a BFA at Pratt Institute in New York. A class project taking pictures of gay and queer men in their apartments led to a blog, TheGayMenProject.com, that took him to 37 countries to photograph more than 700 subjects.
He decided to go to journalism school because he felt he needed to learn more of the fundamental and technical skills. Although he was also accepted to Columbia’s and the University of Oregon’s journalism schools, he chose the Newmark J-School because of affordability, access to New York newsrooms, and “the breathing room” a 16-month program could give him. It also helped that he was awarded a Knight VICE Scholarship that comes with an internship at VICE next summer.
With interests in photography, video, writing, and travel, Kevin naturally gravitated to the J-School’s new documentary specialization and the international subject concentration. If he can find the right subject, he can see himself producing a documentary on an LGBTQ refugee.
Wherever his journalism ultimately takes him, one day he would like to move back to Oregon. “I like the idea of going back to my family and my roots,” he said. “And let’s face it, there are good stories to be told everywhere.”