Public Statements & Remarks

Remarks by Commissioner Caroline D. Pham to the National Conference of Vietnamese American Attorneys

September 24, 2022

Thank you for the kind introduction. And thank you to Kim and the rest of the NCVAA Board and membership for presenting me with the Cornerstone Award as the first Vietnamese-American woman nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to the executive branch: a lifetime achievement in advancement of Vietnamese American professionals and promotion of justice, equity, and opportunity for the Vietnamese American community.  It is truly humbling, and sometimes I have to remind myself that this is all real and really happening. And lastly, thank you to all of you here at tonight’s dinner for sharing in this special occasion.

It means so much to me and especially my family—my parents, who are here from California tonight, and to my two brothers.

I want to also recognize the Vietnamese American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, DC Metro Area (VABA-DC).  Twelve years ago, they awarded me a scholarship that allowed me to take an unpaid internship at the CFTC for former Commissioner Scott O’Malia, right after the Dodd-Frank Act had been passed. It was only the second year of their scholarship program.  That set me off on a career path that has led me here to this moment—to being a CFTC Commissioner myself.  I never, ever dreamed that I would find myself in this position one day, and I am eternally grateful to the members of VABA-DC for giving me that first opportunity as a law student.

I hope that I am living proof that diversity outreach and leadership development programs do work—they are the kind of structural reforms that build a talent pipeline that pays off, year after year, and has a powerful network effect.  I wouldn’t be here without all of my mentors and teachers and everyone who lifted me up, so that’s why I believe internships in my office is one way I can pay it forward.

In all of my work on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as a young woman of color in the legal and financial services professions—two fields that have had their share of challenges in this space—one thing that people have often told me is how meaningful it is to hear personal stories.  So I’d like to briefly tell you about my story, and I know many of you have similar stories as well.

My parents were airlifted by helicopter from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on the last day of the Vietnam War, April 30, 1975.  Their journey took them to North Dakota; Michigan; Needles, California; New Jersey; and then finally to Modesto, California in the Central Valley where I was born and raised until I went to college.  Modesto is an agricultural area south of Sacramento, and when I grew up there in the 1980s and 1990s I don’t think there was a single other Vietnamese person in my classes.

The challenges I faced taught me the importance of strength and resilience.  In my professional career, it has given me the strength to walk into rooms where I’m still the only person that looks like me, to rise above my doubts, to speak up when others are silent, to challenge the status quo and groupthink, to not take “no” or “you can’t” for an answer, and to say “yes” and take risks in the unknown.

Thinking back to that VABA-DC scholarship dinner, I remember I said then that I felt like I was going to cry because I had never seen so many Vietnamese-American lawyers in one room.  And tonight, looking across all the tables, I’ll say it again. Just being here, with this community, is powerful and sends a strong message that inspires so many out there, especially young lawyers.

So more than ever, I am grateful for the community that the NCVAA fosters.  The impact of your support doesn’t stop at the people in this room.  The resources and the community that this network provides makes us all stronger parents, siblings, friends, and colleagues, even when we’re done practicing law and doing our jobs for the day.

Our future is built upon those who came before us, who laid the cornerstone and the foundation and set the stage for us all to succeed and reach ever greater achievements.

And so I’d like to end with one more thank you: to my parents.  Thank you for instilling me with a strong sense of pride in my heritage, to hold my head up high no matter what, and to take any setbacks and use that as motivation to try even harder.  Thank you for making sacrifices that gave me opportunities that brought me here today.  Thank you for your unconditional love and support, and I hope to be the kind of example for my daughter and so many other Vietnamese-Americans as you have been for me.