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St. Thomas Winter Grad Inspires Children to Be the Difference

By Vivian Cabrera, University of St. Thomas
12/12/2012 (4 years ago)
University of St. Thomas (stthom.edu)

St. Thomas Winter Grad Inspires Children to Be the Difference

University of St. Thomas senior communication major Megan Viola-Vu maintains a busy schedule. In addition to fulfilling her winter graduation requirements, she is involved in on-campus groups like the Vietnamese Student Association and the UST Cheer team. Viola-vu is also youth group leader for the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society of the southern region, and uses her time, treasure and talent to encourage children to dream big.

Viola-Vu and 431 other graduates will celebrate during the Winter Graduation Mass at noon on Dec. 15 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 6800 Buffalo Speedway. A reception will be held at UST welcoming graduates as new alumni at 1:30 p.m. in Jerabeck Gym.

Viola-Vu created the Be the Difference Foundation, which reaches out to children battling cancer, the less fortunate and children with disabilities.

"Our foundation encourages kids to dream big no matter what obstacles life throws at them," Viola-Vu said. "We help them live those dreams to the best of our ability."

Viola-Vu's inspiration to create the Be the Difference Foundation stems from her participation in the National American Miss pageants, aimed at instilling confidence in young women. Originally from Holland, Mich., Viola-Vu began competing in National American Miss pageants as a preteen.

Be The Difference began in February 2012, during Viola-Vu's reign as National Cover Miss. Viola-Vu was able to spread the word about National American Miss to get the most support for the organization.

"It doesn't matter what you look like, just as long as you can be yourself around the judges and present yourself well on stage," Viola-Vu said. "That's what they encourage girls to do."

Be The Difference held its first fundraiser in July, to raise money for a 14-year-old girl at Texas Children's Hospital with Thalassemia Beta. The foundation raised more than $5,000 and registered several bone marrow donors.

"I've known a lot of kids battling cancer who are not able to fulfill everything they hoped to," Viola-Vu said. "I want to be able to show them that having a disability or disease doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to dream."

A 10-year participant, Viola-Vu credits National American Miss for the allowing her to mature throughout her involvement.

"When I first started, I was so shy," Viola-Vu said. "I would be the little girl who would hide behind her mom's back. Now I'm confident enough to just go out there and meet new people and even start a foundation of my own. I can present myself on stage, and I don't have trouble talking to anyone about anything now."

Viola-Vu currently holds the National Cover Miss 2011-2012 crown, but will retire her crown a few weeks before graduating from college.

Viola-Vu's communication classes at UST have allowed her to participate in an internship with The Pageant Planet, an online magazine dedicated to the pageant industry worldwide. The journalism internship allows Viola-Vu to put the skills learned at UST into practice.

Although Viola-Vu's schedule can be chaotic at times, she remains calm with her trust in God and a good support system.

"My family and friends have been a huge support system for me, and I really couldn't have done it without them," Viola-Vu said. "I've been able to do all of this through my belief in God, and if it wasn't for Him and His plan for me, I probably wouldn't be here."

After graduation, Viola-Vu wants to expand her foundation, with the goal of getting 10 more states involved.

For more information on the Be The Difference Foundation, or to donate, email btd.foundation@gmail.com or visit the Facebook page.

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The University of St. Thomas, dedicated to educating leaders of faith and character, is a private institution committed to the liberal arts and to the religious, ethical and intellectual tradition of Catholic higher education. St. Thomas is Houstonís only Catholic University and was founded by the Basilian Fathers.


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