When Valerie Vong ’22 was about 10 years old, she began volunteering to clean up Massachusetts beaches from her home city of Lynn down to Cape Cod. A decade later, Vong remains passionate about environmental reforms, this time from her role at Lynn City Hall, where she is the first Cambodian American woman and youngest person employed in the building.
Vong is the communications director for Lynn Mayor Jared Nicholson. Her first day of work was on her 22nd birthday in January, as she started her final semester as a full-time student.
“I’m making people uncomfortable at city hall because I’m taking up space that wasn’t originally made for someone like me. That’s something I think about a lot when I walk into work,” she says. “I’m an Asian American woman and that’s something people notice right away. I also started this job as a full-time college student who just turned 22. I felt like I had to prove to everyone in city hall and beyond that I do belong here, and I’m qualified to be here, no matter my race or age.”
“I didn’t want to miss out on the job opportunity, so I’m thankful that Clark accommodated me,” she says. “It was difficult, but worthwhile, to do both. Job offers like this don’t come easily at such a young age.”
Vong’s position is dynamic. She writes press releases, runs social media for the city and the mayor, and handles media requests. But she also has a seat at the table on environmental issues.
“This combination ties into the policy-focused work I’ve always dreamed of pursuing and started at Clark,” she says. “I appreciate not being stuck in a box.”
Vong is part of a team that’s identifying ways to improve water quality and combat pollution from sewage waste at King’s Beach — a full-circle moment, as King’s Beach is one of the places she cleaned in her youth. She also is working on a project to install solar panels at Lynn Public Schools that currently have solar-ready roofing, as well as an electric vehicle ordinance for the city.
“When we implement green, sustainable initiatives, the youth understand how important the environment is,” Vong says.
Vong and colleagues have been coordinating with Lynn’s state delegation to add more public transportation options for residents. The city’s MBTA Commuter Rail station is currently closed for improvements.
“We rely heavily on public transportation in Lynn,” she says. “We pushed for alternatives like shuttle buses that go to the Swampscott station and want to add a temporary platform at another location in the city.”
Before landing her job, Vong was the digital director for Nicholson’s mayoral campaign. She shared Nicholson’s message and policies online and used social media to encourage young people to head to the polls.
“Clark granted me the opportunity to start my day analyzing Shakespearean literature and end my day writing a policy brief on how to make a sustainable community,” she says. “That made a big impact on how I’ve shaped my professional work.”