Staff Tribute: Kimarlee Nguyen

Tribute to Kimarlee NguyenHigh School English Teacher

“Ms. Nguyen's passion for teaching and love for her students was ingrained in who she was. She would do anything for her students, and they knew it. Each spring, she'd come bouncing into my office (and delve into my secret stash of candy) to talk about how she could support ‘her’ seniors (yes, they were ‘hers’) as they were making their way towards graduation, and perhaps getting a little lazy with their work. She was intent on doing whatever needed to happen to help them cross the finish line and make their way to what came next in their lives after Brooklyn Latin. She was so invested in who they were, and who they would become.”

 Rebecca Davidson, writing about her colleague Kimarlee Nguyen, who taught English at Brooklyn Latin for six years before passing away from COVID-19 in April at the age of 33. 

The word “passion” comes up over and over in the many heartfelt tributes to Ms. Nguyen from her students and fellow educators. A devoted teacher and inspired creator, Ms. Nguyen’s infectious enthusiasm for language and literature illuminated the lives of those around her. Like many of her students, she was a first-generation American who became the first in her family to attend college. Ms. Nguyen earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College, where she also played rugby, and a master of fine arts degree from Long Island University.

In the classroom, Ms. Nguyen’s outgoing personality and devotion to awakening a shared love for the written word helped her forge powerful and sustaining connections with her students. Listen to one of her seniors: “You not only made me laugh and feel happy, but you also gave me the determination I needed when I felt like I wanted to give up or quit. I found it hard adjusting back to English class this year after being out, but not only did you help me every step of the way, you gave me the opportunity to enjoy English and reading again. Your class challenged me in ways I wouldn't think possible, and I'm so glad to have known you.”

Ms. Nguyen’s parents came to the United States in 1982 after fleeing from Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime and several difficult years in a refugee camp in Thailand. The stories they told her as a child served as a powerful foundation for Ms. Nguyen’s creative expression. Ms. Nguyen earned numerous writing fellowships and residencies for portrayals drawn from her family’s experiences, and in her off hours was working on a novel titled Lion’s Tooth, about a Cambodian-American family living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Everyone at Brooklyn Latin will deeply miss Ms. Nguyen, as this tribute from teacher Caitlin Ferraro illustrates: “I think the biggest reason why it's so hard for me to accept that you're gone is that you were more full of life than probably anyone I've ever met. You were so unapologetically vibrant. You were always so THERE, and I can't wrap my mind around you being anything but. I am so grateful for your friendship, for the comfort I found in you during a really tough year, for the lightness and joy you brought to my life, to our community, and to every community you were a part of. There are so many more things I want to say but I can't figure out the right words. I wish you were here to help me find them.”