A recipient of The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) and The Leadership Award, Michael Pham is motivated, driven, enthusiastic, and grateful about life. Like many CAA Alumni Scholars, Michael’s story illustrates how one can turn adversity into success. Michael is different from most UC Berkeley students. He was born with cerebral palsy and navigates the world with a walker and wheelchair. His zeal for life transcends his physical impairment and propels Michael to break stereotypes and succeed beyond expectations.
“Living like this, I am very grateful because I am able to touch many lives,” says Pham. “I am able to show despite being disabled, I am capable of doing anything like anybody else.” During his freshman year in high school, Michael was forced to take special education classes and told he would not be a leader. “Many students thought I could not hold a leadership position for clubs because of my impairment, I did not let that struggle stop me,” says Pham, who persevered. As the president of the Interact Club, he increased membership from 40 students to 150. The Best Buddies Club gave Michael the opportunity to promote friendships between disabled and able-bodied students. He also fought hard to get into mainstream classes and by his junior year was taking advanced placement courses.
Hard work paid off and Michael was accepted to UCLA and UC Berkeley. Although he was very excited about his UCLA acceptance, he chose Berkeley because of the campus support system and the scholarships he received. “When I found out about the TAAP scholarship, I broke down in tears. It has given me the independence to explore different opportunities at Cal.” The Disabled Students’ Program helped Michael get housing on the first floor of his dorm.
Michael saw an early opportunity to give back at UC Berkeley. During his first semester he was appointed as the co-director of the ASUC Disabled Students Accommodation Fund, a position not usually held by a first-year student. It was Michael’s passion that moved ASUC Senators to appoint him, “I want to improve the ADA for the disabled community. I am the type of person who will always speak up and ask for help when needed.” Michael credits The Leadership Award with helping him to get this position, “I would not have the determination to hold this position so early if it was not for The Leadership Award. It taught me to always take the lead, take action if nobody does and to make a difference in the world.”
Michael believes anything is possible and that physical limits do not stop him. “The sky is the limit. I am capable of doing anything like anybody else. This is why I am so happy to be at Cal. Being here, I am accepted for whom I am, never judged about my disability, and treated like any other individual. Berkeley is the perfect choice.”