Thach Huynh grew up in Vietnam, but he wanted to see what life in another country was like. Leaving his parents and little brother behind, he moved to the United States.
That was two years ago. On May 30, he graduated from Lodi Academy and embarks on what he hopes will become a successful business career.
Huynh's come a long way since moving to Lodi two years ago. He said he makes friends easily, learns up to 30 words a day, is close to becoming an Eagle Scout and earned straight A's in his senior year. That includes some advanced placement courses.
He took on the nickname "Rocky" since his real name is hard for Americans to pronounce — phonetically, it's "Tatch Whin."
"When he got off the airplane in Sacramento, I asked him what Thach meant," said Jim Surface, who later became his scoutmaster.
When Huynh responded "rock," he was pinned Rocky.
"My friends kept asking me, 'Have you seen Rocky Balboa?'" Huynh said. "I kind of like it. It gives a friendly sound — 'Rocky.' It is easy for me to create a conversation."
So does watching movies. He'll watch a movie on his computer and talk to his classmates about it the next day.
"I've seen probably hundreds of movies the last two years," Rocky said.
"I can learn slang like 'Hey, what's happening?'"
Lodi Academy Principal Doug Brown is quite impressed with Rocky.
"He is a personality, without a doubt," Brown said. "Rocky assimilated into our school culture quicker than any new student at any of my schools. He picked up the idioms. He picked up the friendships and integrated into all the friendships quickly. To look at him, you would think he would be with these kids for 12 years."
Classmate TJ Concepcion says that Rocky is funny (he was voted "class clown") and smart.
"He makes a lot of jokes," Concepcion said. "He's probably the smartest guy here at the school when it comes to mathematics, and just overall, he's a good student."
Rocky said he draws some of his humor from movies he sees.
"Comedy is a good way of learning about American society," he said.
Rocky's favorite comedies include "Finding Nemo," "A Fish Called Wanda" and "The Ugly Truth." He also enjoys action movies like "Iron Man" and "Transformers."
Rocky came to Lodi through distant relatives Linda Nguyen and her husband, David Trinh. Rocky calls them his aunt and uncle, but they aren't actually blood relatives.
"I wanted to experience a new kind of education," Rocky said. "I heard the United States has one of the best educational systems in the world.
"My parents — they love education," he said. "They kept telling me that knowledge is the best thing I can earn in the world, not money."
Lodi Academy is a Seventh-day Adventist school, but Rocky isn't an Adventist. He learned about Christianity through his school and Boy Scout troop.
Here are some of the accomplishments Thach "Rocky" Huynh has achieved since he came to Lodi Academy two years ago:
— Selected to National Honor Society.
— A reader for the math teacher in 12th grade.
— Played on the Lodi Academy golf team.
— Completed three advanced placement course at San Joaquin Delta College.
— Achieved the Life Scout level in Boy Scouts. He wants to complete requirements to become an Eagle Scout when time permits.
— Received 12 honor pins for being among one of the top 3 in his individual classes.
— Participated in several canned food drives. Scoutmaster Jim Surface recalls Rocky picking up canned food even though he had pulled ligaments and had his leg in a cast.
Source: News-Sentinel staff
"Teachers don't force you to join their church, but they want us to respect their religion," he said. "Christianity teaches you to live a good life, and morality is a strong point."
While attending Lodi Academy, Rocky quickly became a Boy Scout, joining Troop 316, sponsored by Crossroads/ Heartland Church in Lodi. He would normally become an Eagle Scout in the fall, but he will spend the next months visiting his family in Vietnam — just when he would be at summer camp earning merit badges. He left for Vietnam on Memorial Day.
When he returns to America, Rocky will head to Butler University in Indianapolis, where he will major in business and finance while minoring in computer engineering.
"He's an amazing young man," said Surface, his Scoutmaster. "It was interesting to see him last summer when we went up to Beardsley Lake (in Tuolumne County). He shot .22-caliber rifles and was in archery and canoeing. Being in the mountains was something he couldn't do in Vietnam."
Surface has influenced Rocky in more ways than teaching him how to camp, cooking and the general Scout values — he introduced him to country music, then classic rock and Christian music.
"It's not too fast," Rocky said about country music. "The lyrics are sometimes weird."
When it comes to classic rock, we're talking a big-time Eagles fan here.
"'Hotel California' is one of my favorites of all time," Rocky said. "And how do you pronounce it — Lynyrd Skynyrd?" Rocky also enjoys jazz, classical, blues and hip-hop music, but not rap.
He plays guitar, and Carlos Santana is one of his favorites. And he was part of a duet during last Sunday's graduation.
But the classroom is most important to him.
"High school, to me, is like a middle step," Rocky said.
He wanted to attend Yale University, but he thinks he didn't get accepted because his accent was thicker when Yale interviewed him in December.
So now he will go to Butler, where he got a $24,000 scholarship.
"My biggest goal is to get into Yale Business (graduate) School," Rocky said.
Once he's done with college, Rocky said may want to return to his home country.
"Vietnam is a developing country," he said. "I want to help my parents and hometown. Eventually, I want to start the Boy Scouts in Vietnam. I love the Boy Scouts."