At times, the arrival of death is unforeseen. Swiftly and without warning, it claims the lives of those we cherish the most. The week of September 29 was a week of grief and mourning here at Franklin High School (FHS). The sudden and tragic loss of the beloved Hoang Tran was immediately felt throughout the entirety of the Franklin community. In the words of Principal Chris Frazier, “Mr. Tran was a hardworking individual. [He was] truly passionate and he cared about his students [and] cared about Franklin High School. He was collaborative, whimsical, extremely talented, and he had no problem sharing his gifts with our school community.” It is difficult to express in words the true value of these gifts mentioned by Frazier. But in this time of grief, it is important to reflect on the everlasting legacy Tran left behind.
Tran served as a counselor here at FHS for 19 years. His skills in supporting students were exemplary. Zoe Zelinsky, a junior here at Franklin, is one of the many students who had Tran as a counselor. Zelinsky met with him the Thursday before he went sailing to make some changes to her schedule. “He changed my classes for me, no questions asked, [he was] just super supportive. It made a huge difference in my stress level and just helped a lot. I really felt advocated for.” Anyone who has ever been a high school student knows how stressful it can be at times. To put it simply, high school is not easy. The presence of a skilled and supportive staff member is instrumental in changing students’ high school experience for the better. For many students, Tran was that person.
In addition to the phenomenal support he offered, many students found they could also connect with him personally. This was the experience of Nieves Vallejo, who spent last year at Franklin as a Foreign Exchange student from Madrid, Spain. Vallejo said that when she would meet with Tran, they would often “talk about famous Spanish sports players and have really nice conversations about Spain and travelling.” Connecting with his students was one of the many ways Tran showed them he cared. It is easy to get caught up in the business of academics. But when a teacher or counselor takes the time to check in with you and get to know you, they show that they see you not only as a student but as a human being. They are acknowledging that you are a unique individual with a complex inner life. This was something Tran did well. It helped students feel welcome and appreciated, especially those who attended Franklin for only a brief time, like Vallejo.
Tran’s gifts and abilities went far beyond his role as a counselor. As an immigrant from Vietnam, multiculturalism was close to his heart and he approached much of his work through that lens. According to Frazier, Tran was a leader in running Franklin’s multicultural assemblies and he also held weekly parent meetings for those of Asian ethnicities to feel more connected and welcomed in the community. Equity was one of Tran’s core values, which was reflected in his work. “Mr. Tran was instrumental in really supporting all of our students but primarily our students of Asian descent. He did a lot of things in our community to make what is typically seen as an underserved population feel supported and loved within the community,” said Frazier. Although he is no longer with us, it goes without the slightest of doubts that all of Tran’s work surrounding equity and multiculturalism will continue to positively impact Franklin in the years to come.
Here at Franklin, we are mourning not only the loss of a beloved counselor and student advocate, but the loss of an amazing individual: someone deeply loved and valued by all. In this time of grief, some staff members who knew Tran well have been gracious enough to share some of their fondest memories of him. Marc Appell, a Franklin social studies teacher, recalled a special moment from a staff gathering in June of 2019. During the event, Tran performed a tradition known as the ring test for Appell and his wife Cristina to predict the sex of their baby due later that month. Appell said the interaction started with Tran approaching Cristina. “In classic Mr. Tran form he was just so kind, loving, and my wife was immediately like ‘oh this guy is so awesome.’ And then he said, ‘You know, I can predict the sex of your baby. Do you want to do the ring test?’” Appell explained that Tran proceeded to borrow Cristina’s wedding ring, which he tied to a piece of her hair. The way the ring test works is that some important ring of the expecting mother gets tied to a piece of string (or a piece of hair). It then gets dipped down seven times over the mother’s stomach or, in some cases, palm. If it swings back and forth the baby is a boy, and if it spins in circles the baby is a girl. “So he dipped the ring over Cristina’s palm seven times and then held it, and the ring just started spinning. It was spinning slowly at first and then really fast, like totally spinning spinning spinning spinning. And Mr. Tran, just like he was, was like cracking up and giggling and he was like ‘It’s a girl! It’s gonna be a girl! Heeheehee!’ with his totally amazing Mr. Tran laugh. He had us all just totally rolling [with laughter] at the table.”
Later that month on June 22, Cristina gave birth to a baby girl. “The first thing I thought of was like ‘alright, it’s a girl, amazing,’ and literally the second thing I thought of that day in the hospital was ‘Mr. Tran was right!’” said Appell. “And I know it sounds silly, but when I think of Cecilia, our little girl, I often think of that night… of Mr. Tran… like that gift that he gave us. That gift of preparing us to welcome this beautiful little girl into this world.”
How does one truly accept the loss of someone so valued, someone so cherished, and someone so kind? Perhaps the only thing we can really do is send our love to each other in this difficult time, and of course, to the Tran family. Tran is remembered now by his wife Mai, 24-year-old daughter Andrea, and 8-year-old son Ian, as well as by his siblings and extended family. The grief they are all enduring right now is unfathomable. Through all of the sadness, one thing is for certain: Tran’s legacy will never be forgotten. We love you Mr. Tran, and we miss you dearly. Rest in peace.