Long Hoang with UCLA alumnus Sean Rameswaram at “Flip the Script” event in February 2020. Photo by Hon Hoang
A public affairs student with an outgoing personality finds inner meaning amid the forced isolation of COVID-19
reporting and visual direction by Hon Hoang
photography and captions by Long Hoang
The First Public Affairs Graduates: One in a series of profiles
Long Hoang is a self-described extrovert.
He found the perfect place to find kinship and foster a home for himself on campus when he chose to pursue an undergraduate degree at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, a small school with numerous student-oriented events he could help organize. He reveled in the comradery of his classmates and delighted in being among the first undergraduate students to pursue a public affairs degree at UCLA. Even his cohort’s nickname suited him — the Trailblazers.
“It was so fun seeing everyone and talking to the graduate students” he met at the Luskin School, Hoang said. “I loved all the Trailblazer events. I really feel like the public affairs major is like a giant family.”
As a public affairs undergraduate, Hoang found the direction he needed and a community in which he could thrive. “I’ve honestly never regretted it,” he said. “I love this major, and I love the community that I’ve found.”
Then came COVID-19, and suddenly the events he loves to attend, his in-person classes and his plans for senior year all changed.
“I looked forward to going to classes in person for the last time and doing so many things ‘for the last time.’ I looked forward to having an in-person graduation and crying because we all made it,” he said.
Soon, the new reality became clear. A summer 2020 internship with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) got scuttled because of physical distancing restrictions, so Hoang pivoted to a remote internship with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center instead.
A career ‘where I get to help people’
Dealing successfully with challenges in his life is nothing new for Hoang. For instance, he comes from a low-income background.
“I remember applying to food stamps and going to food banks like it was yesterday,” Hoang recalled. “I remember growing up queer and finding out that the world might not accept me. I also remember living in a large Vietnamese community that suffers from health and economic disparities. I can think of no other avenue of really helping than by being in the public sector.”
These elements of his identity guide his aspirations to give back to society and have influenced his journey through UCLA.
Admitted in 2017 as a pre-med student, Hoang quickly found that his expectations did not match his experiences. Facing a lack of interest in his schoolwork and declining grades, he questioned whether the path he had chosen was right for him.
“I decided being a doctor just wasn’t my thing,” said Hoang, who still wanted to pursue a career “where I get to help people.”
With academic uncertainties looming, a moment of casual research resulted in a resolute decision to pursue a new path. In 2018, the recently created public affairs degree at the Luskin School caught his attention. “This is it,” Hoang thought as he read about the degree and what it could mean for him to become a changemaker.
‘I’m just proud I got through that’
This June, Hoang is on track to be among the first undergraduate degree recipients at the Luskin School. It will be an accomplishment that didn’t always seem certain.
Before the pandemic, Hoang resolved to raise his grade point average (GPA) to a 3.5. It was an ambitious goal, especially considering his starting point.
“In spring of 2018, I was placed on Subject to Dismissal (STD). My overall cumulative GPA was a 2.3,” Hoang said. “Looking back, I can’t believe it got that low, but it is what it is.”
Then, in 2020, Hoang — along every other current college student — had to adapt to an e-learning environment, which did not make his academic aspiration any easier.
“I’ll be honest, I anticipated these classes to go easier on us. They have shown no mercy so far,” he said of the high expectations that his professors have retained despite the virtual learning circumstances.
But he has been steadfast through the hardships, and Hoang’s GPA has become a source of pride.
“Now I’m at a cumulative GPA of 3.536! I am not afraid to tell people I was on STD or that my cumulative GPA was at one point a 2.3. In a lot of ways, I’m just proud I got through that,” Hoang said.
‘Time to reflect on myself’
Although recent studies have taken place in isolation and commencement won’t be the crowded in-person event he had envisioned, Hoang’s sense of community remains intact.
“I’m just so grateful to have met the friends I have from public affairs,” Hoang said. “They’re all incredibly intelligent, hard-working and passionate. I think Luskin does a great job in helping facilitate and empower that.”
In recent months, this extrovert has had no choice but to adjust to a more introverted lifestyle.
“One silver lining I got from this is having so much time to reflect on myself,” Hoang said. “I went to a therapist and worked out my struggles with anxiety and depression.”
It was an opportunity for him to look inward, using the quiet moments amid the pandemic to reflect on things he had been neglecting. In his pursuit of a degree that focuses on helping others, Long Hoang has taken advantage of an opportunity to help himself.
“It was a time for me to finally practice the self-care that I desperately needed,” he said. “I just wish it didn’t take a pandemic for me to finally do it.”