2016 Letter from the Editors
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Letter from the Editors
Dedicated to Thu Phan
January 1, 1978-February 6, 2016
In "The Quest for Awareness," published in the 2003 Delta Winds, Thu Phan presents a carefully considered disability awareness course for insensitive or incompetent teachers. She wanted them to know how she, in her gracious way, demanded to be treated-for she had tact but she never suffered fools lightly.
Thu once stated, "I still have goals in life and don't deserve anything less. I have the same hopes and dreams as others, but with certain difficulties." Thu was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also called brittle-bone disease. Every day, she wheeled her way past barriers, both internal and external. Though she had spent months lying in bed with broken bones, the last thing she would allow was pity.
She approached her life with amazing pragmatism. When her sister hesitated to ride on the back of Thu's new motor-powered wheelchair, Thu replied, "This thing's built to hold up to 350 pounds, and I weigh 35 pounds. So, get on!" To track her progress in the numerous online sweepstakes she entered, Thu created multiple email accounts with complex filtering systems. It all seemed like a cute hobby until she hit pay dirt and announced she had won an all-expenses-paid trip for four to London!
In the fall of 1997, with a deep-throated laugh, infectious to those anywhere in the vicinity, Thu stormed onto the Delta campus. She had a sharp wit and a generous heart, making discussion groups difficult since everyone converged around her. Off-campus, she viewed interactions with onlookers as opportunities to educate. Thu returned from various national conferences with photos of what seemed like lifelong friends, but these were people she'd just met-bus drivers, hotel clerks, fellow attendees. In some way, Thu made them feel connected to her, for they all wore the familiar expression of tender admiration-a feeling Thu brought out in others.
After four years, she had accumulated enough credits to complete her AA degree. But she craved more out of life and viewed more education as her ticket to reach these dreams. She'd quip, "What am I going to do-make flower-pens and sell them at the flea market until I'm an old lady?" So she resumed her classes and kept applying herself. After seven years at Delta, Thu was accepted at UC Berkeley, where she achieved the ultimate goal she had envisioned for herself-full independence.
At Berkeley, she worked as a peer advisor in the career center and served as a summer intern in Washington, D.C., for the Department of Transportation, where she used her no-nonsense approach to argue in favor of ADA rights concerning accessibility issues. She wrote, "Whenever I encounter barriers in my path, I get frustrated and annoyed, especially when I have to backtrack two blocks in order to get off the curb cut and travel in the gutter next to traffic. My safety is compromised due to these obstructions."
After graduating from Berkeley, Thu continued to advocate for people with disabilities, becoming a finalist in the National Disability Institute's American Dream contest:
Thu left an unforgettable impression on Delta College and those who met her. This made it all the more difficult when we learned of her passing. On February 6, 2016, Thu died after being hit by a vehicle while she was crossing Market Street on her way to work for the Department of Labor in San Francisco. Deeply saddened by the news, the editors of Delta Winds wish to dedicate this volume to her lasting memory. With her humble spirit and open arms, she consciously welcomed others into her life, yet she never grasped the full impact she had on all of us.