Getting birthday presents is something everybody loves, no matter who you are. Old and young, everyone loves birthdays. But instead of asking for presents from his friends and family, one student on the University of Florida’s campus has a different idea of how to make his 19th birthday a great one.

Freshman Bao Huynh asked his family and friends to donate to cancer research instead of giving him presents for his birthday on November 9.

Fresh U had the chance to interview Huynh, and he let us in on his inspiring story:

Fresh U: Tell us about yourself. Why’d you decide to come to UF? What’s your major?

Bao Huynh: I’m Vietnamese and I came over to America when I was four. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be a doctor, and as I began to grow and learn, my desire to become a doctor has grown. That is why I chose pre-professional biology as my major; out of all the science classes, biology is my favorite. 

I decided to come to UF because I heard from multiple sources that UF is the best school in Florida. For me to reach my goal of becoming a doctor, I need to learn a lot and to learn it well and that’s why I decided on UF. The location is also favorable to me, as it gives a sense of independence but also gives me a chance to see my parents whenever I want.

Fresh U: What made you decide to ask for donations for your birthday?

Bao Huynh: For the past 18 years, I’ve always celebrated my birthday with my family... As I was transitioning into college life, one of the questions that I always asked myself was, "How am I going to celebrate my 19th birthday?" I couldn’t celebrate it with my parents since it’s on a Wednesday and neither of them can come up to Gainesville. Then, one day in September, during an AMSA (American Medical Student Association) meeting, they announced an event that they were participating in called “Light the Night,” and the walk just happened to be on November 9. 

The moment I saw the date of the walk, my question of what I was going to do for my birthday was answered. Although I never ask for gifts for my birthday — besides for when I’m joking and say that I want a Lamborghini for my birthday — my family members and friends still surprise me with gifts. 

When I heard about Light the Night, I immediately knew that if I were to get gifts, I wanted them to be in the form of donations to Leukemia research... I also view birthdays as a day of celebrating life. 

We give gifts to individuals to celebrate another year of them living and learning and hoping for many more years. For my 19th birthday, what better way to celebrate living life than by helping others live theirs? Light the Night is an event where people come together to walk and fundraise to give hope to those who have been affected by blood cancers. 

Although the people that I walk with might not know it’s my birthday, in my head, I am celebrating my birthday with hundreds of individuals who want to bring more hope into the world. Life isn’t about how much we receive, but about how much we give.

Fresh U: Have you attended Light the Night before? 

Bao Huynh: I have never attended or even heard of Light the Night before coming to UF. I have participated in Relay for Life but never Light the Night.

Fresh U: What does leukemia/cancer research mean to you?

Bao Huynh: To me, leukemia/cancer research means trying to find a cure for what seems to be an incurable disease. It means gaining more knowledge on cancer and in the end, helping people with cancer, of any race or social class, to live and celebrate another day.

Fresh U: How much money have you raised so far?

Bao Huynh: Currently, I’ve raised $50 for Light the Night. My first donation was quite unexpected, as I expected it to be from a family member, but it was from my friend John. John and I have been playing video games together ever since 8th grade. When I was talking to John about Light the Night, he asked me if a donation would count as my birthday gift and I replied, "It definitely does." I got a notification that I had received my first donation from John. 

After that moment, I began to feel a sense of gratitude, and realized just how rich the quality of our friendship is. It was one of the best birthday gifts I’ve received.

Fresh U: Do you have a goal of how much money you want to raise?

Bao Huynh: I don’t have a goal of how much money I want to raise, although the preset goal is $250 dollars… My [personal] goal is to just raise as much money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society as possible.

Fresh U: You’ve told me before it’s your goal in life to inspire people. Can you elaborate on that? How do you want to inspire people?

Bao Huynh: Although many people might not realize it, I think that everyone has a desire to leave something in the world in their lifetime, their own personal legacy. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “leaving a legacy” and whenever I would read my history textbooks, I would tell myself:

I want to be in a history textbook one day, even if it is in one of those small sections that the future generations skip over as they scramble to finish their study guide.

Although making it into a history textbook is just a far-off dream of mine, leaving a legacy is a realistic goal of mine that I can and will achieve. Leaving a legacy doesn’t necessarily have to mean having your name remembered in 50 years, it can also mean inspiring someone or have someone look up to you. And that is my goal, to inspire. Through my actions, I hope to inspire people, even if it is just one person, to be kind to one another. I want to inspire others to be selfless, and to give in a world where many people just take. I hope that my actions have inspired others, and even if one person has been moved or inspired, then I’ve already left my legacy.

Fresh U: Is there anyone that inspired you to do this walk? Or anyone that just inspires you in life in general?

Bao Huynh: Some close family members in my life have lost their battle to cancer and some are currently fighting right now. They have inspired me to do this walk and to give hope to people that might not see any hope at all. The first person to ever inspire me is my mom, who has taught me that love and kindness is always the answer, not only though her words but also her actions.

Fresh U: What do you hope will come from all this?

Bao Huynh: I hope to bring hope into peoples' lives from all of this. I hope to make people hopeful from this walk and that from doing this walk, I will also learn something about hope and courage.

A Note From Journalist Jordan Ellis:

I was personally fortunate enough to go to high school with Bao. We served together in Interact Club and I witnessed his heart for service as we fed the homeless every month. What he’s doing is very special. 

If you feel so led to donate to his page, click here

To learn more about the Light the Night Walk and how you can participate in a walk near you, click here

And if you want to donate to or learn how you can help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, click here.

Happy birthday, Bao! You’re making everyone proud with the difference you’re making in this world. 

Lead Image Credit: Bao Huynh