Eulogy Remarks, 2010

On October 18th Hoa Tran passed away after a valiant fight against cancer. She was only twenty-six years old. The old adage that only the good die young holds true once again. Hoa will be deeply missed – her smile, her energy, her sense of humor and overall positive energy. Like a flower blossoming in sunlight, Hoa’s smile opened hearts and warmed souls.

While I believe that Hoa may have left us, her spirit continues to live on in others. She has left a legacy that in thinking about her life, I would like to showcase.

Few know that Hoa came from ordinary means. With a police officer as a father and a school principal mother, Hoa had important family support during her upbringing, but did not come from the elite. It was her raw talent – her sharp intellect and desire to learn – that propelled her into good schools and eventually, thanks to the support of the Ford Foundation, to SAIS in Washington DC. This is where I met her, in a class on contentious politics in Southeast Asia, where she sat just a few feet away from me in a seminar room. From the first class, she showed a keen interest in issues and willingness to engage –speaking out bravely the very first class. This willingness to experience and share – whether it was in the classroom or in her friendships – was one of her defining features. She embraced learning as she did life – with zest, passion, humor and without hesitation.

Like the beautiful flower that attracts attention, Hoa attracted others. Hoa’s love of life extended to a desire to engage with people. She was a social animal. Even in the darkest hours of her treatment she needed people around her, to touch or listen to. Initially the emails and Facebook messages of friends were important in giving her strength. Later the phone calls of friends and the touch of family defined her last days. This connectivity was part of her being, as she reminded us through her life that we are not alone. We are in a community of people that connect, often by chance or erendipity, but, nevertheless, a community. Hoa’s community extended from Hanoi and Singapore to ashington DC and beyond. Hoa’s innate ability to connect to others bridged divides of all kinds. She reminded us that in giving to others, you receive.  There was a unique element in Hoa’s relationship with people – it was an acceptance of individuals for who they are, of diversity. This combination of social engagement, generosity of spirit and tolerance is rare, and added to her beauty.

When Hoa was diagnosed for the second time with cancer, the community she had touched, and the outreach of this community, offered her help. These efforts were inspired by the desire to do the right thing. Like many who suffer diseases early in life, it was clear to all that Hoa suffered an injustice that needed to be addressed. Hoa’s passing has reminded us that not all injustices can be addressed, but the process of working together in a common purpose can continue on. Hoa spoke at length about the need to improve the health care system in Vietnam, and strengthen hospice care. Some of the remaining donations to her treatment will go to this effort. She wanted to send a message that one should not ignore the problems around us. She wanted to instill this sense of purpose in her students in her desired career to be a professor, but, sadly, was only given a limited opportunity to do so. Through her connections, however, this message will continue on, and is a critical element of her legacy. Anyone who knew Hoa understood that behind the beauty of the petals, the lovely way she took care of herself with style, was a rod of steel, a will power that will continue to live on even as the flower petals have gone into the wind. Her pollen has touched others and will continue to do so.

Hoa’s strength was something I learned to appreciate watching her undergo medical treatment. When she initially arrived in Singapore in July 2009 she feared a needle injection. By the time she left, she embraced the title “tube woman” and had conquered many of her fears. Throughout the struggle she smiled and in her last few months she made a point to connect as much as possible to share her inner feelings. She loved many people and wanted them to know it. Her love will continue to blossom in hearts across the world. Hoa’s struggle reminds us that in all of us there is a strength we do not know we have, and, in the right circumstances, we can find it. That while we are in a community, our own abilities to manage pain and fear can evolve. Hoa became a stronger person, even as her body weakened. This ability to transform oneself in the face of obstacles should remind others that we should not live life in fear. It was clear that Hoa did not want to leave us. She bucked the odds and predictions regularly, which was part of her style. But I do believe that in her last few months she found peace, surrounded by her family who she loved dearly and friends. One of her dearest wishes was that others find peace as well, within themselves and among themselves, especially her special loved ones and family.

Hoa would find this discussion a bit too intense, too serious. She loved to laugh and have fun. She wanted to travel the world, to see and meet people wherever and whenever. She wanted to dance, to sing and discuss issues from fashion and movies to more serious political concerns. She would want everyone to continue to live – to be happy and at peace, to be engaged and connected and to be strong and determined. In living with these issues in mind, we celebrate Hoa. She was definitely worthy of celebration. Celebrate! Celebrate! Do not let the passing of a flower blind us to the beauty of the field of hope and joy that Hoa embodied