St. Olaf Magazine | Spring/Summer 2023

Hmoob Nyob Saum Roob: Celebrating 30 Years of Hmong Oles

Last November St. Olaf hosted its inaugural Hmong student and alumni gathering in St. Paul, bringing together an inspiring group of 63 Oles representing 30 years of shared history on the Hill. As one of the organizers, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment in shaping this event, designed to celebrate the accomplishments, contributions, and experiences of Hmong students, alumni, and staff at St. Olaf.

The gathering featured insightful presentations by Hmong students highlighting the importance of identity and alumni engagement. We ensured that the event provided ample opportunities for meaningful conversations, establishing new connections, and strengthening existing relationships in a welcoming and inclusive environment. Current and former TRIO staff who were an integral part of the Hmong Ole experience were also present, exemplifying their commitment to fostering inclusive spaces at St. Olaf.

What an exciting time to recognize all Hmong Ole alumni. There definitely needs to be more of these opportunities to engage the network and to bring us to campus as well. There are many great alumni doing amazing things. This event speaks to us and our existence, and it mattered that we were represented.Pa Ku Lee ’11

It was crucial that an authentic outreach effort was led by Hmong staff members, including SSSD Advisor Padah Vang and Director of Government, Foundation, and Corporate Relations Valeng Cha ’95, in collaboration with Alumni and Parent Relations. At the heart of this, we aimed to foster a greater sense of belonging for all Hmong individuals who have ever called the Hill their home by creating an intentional space for current students and alumni to connect, exchange ideas, and offer mutual support. This approach is very much attuned to the communal value celebrated within the Hmong culture of being a “big sister/brother/aunt/uncle.” In addressing the unique experiences of BIPOC alumni, we were mindful of the importance of ensuring that their connection to St. Olaf was not further marginalized.

Valeng Cha '95 (left) and Seng Lor '23 lead the gathering in a Hmong song. Photo by Marcel Hones '22
Valeng Cha ’95 (left) and Seng Lor ’23 lead the gathering in a Hmong song. Photo by Marcel Hones ’22

As the inaugural St. Olaf Hmong student and alumni gathering came to a close, the message was clear: our work has just begun. The event’s success has paved the way for continued efforts to engage Hmong alumni and students to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment on the Hill. Through ongoing initiatives, we aim to nurture a strong sense of belonging for all, honoring the diverse experiences and contributions of our students and alumni. We hope that the insights gained from ongoing engagement with Hmong alumni will inform broader diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across the college.

I really liked that I was able to connect to people who have been in the same situation that I am currently in. I did not think there were as many people who have already been through this college process at St. Olaf. It turns out that there is a long history of Hmong Oles, and I am very happy for that to be the case.JonJeng Thao ’24

Hmoob nyob saum roob,” a phrase reflecting the Hmong people’s historical ties to the mountains and hilltops of Laos, resonates profoundly with the Hmong community. Fifty years after arriving in the United States, in the small rural town of Northfield, Hmong students find themselves on another Hill — one that presents new possibilities and opportunities.