On Oct. 9, 2016, Tyrin Truong, AB ’21, was one of some 66 million viewers watching as Washington University in St. Louis hosted the second national presidential debate. In high school at the time in Bogalusa, Louisiana, a city of a little over 10,000 residents 69 miles northeast of New Orleans, the moment was Truong’s introduction to WashU.
The university left quite the impression on the young man that night, and he decided to apply. The rest is history. “I had to attend after getting accepted, right?” he laughs.
Fascinated by politics, Truong majored in African and African American studies in Arts & Sciences and minored in political science. It proved to be an ideal choice for someone who would go on to become the youngest and first Black male mayor in the history of Bogalusa. On Jan. 8, at age 23, Truong was sworn in.
“The culture at WashU is very close-knit,” Truong says. “I knew all of my professors on a first-name basis.”
Before long, Truong was applying lessons learned in the classroom to real-world experiences. Near the end of his sophomore year, he was elected as WashU’s 53rd Student Union president.
Truong sharpened his skills during his time as student body president and even served as a speaker at the inauguration of Chancellor Andrew D. Martin in the fall of 2018. “My time as president was eye-opening,” he says. “It taught me about leadership, negotiating deals and working within a budget.”
He spent his senior year mostly online due to the pandemic, but continued to hone his political skills. After graduation, Truong served as policy director at the Urban League of Louisiana. The successful campaign for mayor followed, where, despite his age, he proved an ability to win over voters with fresh ideas for change.
Among the new initiatives he introduced was an investment in the younger generation with a mentorship program called “Better Bogalusa.” The program aims to provide educational and recreational activities for the city’s youth. The small town has also faced increasing gun violence and economic hardship in recent years. Truong’s efforts are focused on creating opportunities for employment and keeping residents safe.
Truong’s dedication to public service stems from an early exposure to helping others, as his mother served in the military on active duty. During his formative years, his family moved to seven different states before moving back to Louisiana.
Eventually, Truong would discover his own path when he set out on the campaign trail. “The military wasn’t my thing,” he says, “so becoming mayor is my way of serving others.”
His mother is not the only one in his family inspiring him to serve. Truong’s grandfather came to this country for a better life and fought in the Vietnam War. “He’s the epitome of the American dream,” Truong says. “He would always tell me to keep my head down and do the work.”
Doing the work led Truong to give back to a place that helped shape who he is today. He believes that the next generation also can use their passions for good.
“When we graduate college, it can be hard sometimes,” he says. “But just keep pushing with your passion. It’ll figure itself out.”
Read more about Truong’s time as a WashU student in Arts & Sciences’ The Ampersand.