Graphic Design Grad's Stint as Olympic Volunteer Turns His Summer into Gold

Vuong Tong '08 serves as marshal for U.S., North Korean and Micronesian athletes during opening and closing ceremonies

Vuong Tong with gold medal-winning volleyball stars Misty May-Treanor (center) and Kerri Walsh Jennings (right).

August 8, 2012

Vuong Tong BFA '08 (Graphic Design) is having what can be described without exaggeration as a once-in-a-lifetime summer, working as a volunteer at the Olympics in London and living some extraordinary experiences. That amazing opening ceremony, watched by 900 million people worldwide? Tong was in the middle of the action, leading athletes from three countries, including the U.S., into the stadium.

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The Philadelphia native, who is studying for his master's degree in Innovation Management at Central St. Martins College in London, responded to a call for Summer Olympics volunteers and was accepted as a catering staffer for opening and closing ceremonies rehearsals. While helping to feed the 7,000 performers involved in Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle's breathtaking opening-ceremony extravaganza, he got to know the production's operations manager.

"A couple of days before the ceremony she asked me if I would fill in as a marshal. I said, 'Sure…what's a marshal?'" he says. "It turns out marshals are the volunteers who lead the delegations of athletes into the Olympic Stadium. I ended up organizing and leading in the U.S., North Korean and Micronesian athletes. It was pretty amazing."

His role involved "corralling" the athletes and organizing them into parade formation after they arrived at the staging area ungrouped and out of order – a fairly easy task for Micronesia, which sent 10 athletes to the Games; the U.S., on the other hand, has a contingent of 503 athletes and was a considerably more challenging task.

Shot-putter Michelle Carter and Tong.

Tong met U.S. athletes Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, the multiple gold medal-winning beach volleyball stars, shot-putter Michelle Carter and others, and had a very close-up meeting with the U.S. men's basketball team.

"The athletes are all very excited to march into the stadium in front of 70,000 people along with hundreds of millions of people watching on TV," he says. "I'm 5-foot-6 and these 7-foot-tall guys were so excited, they didn't see me and didn't realize I was trying to hold them up so we’d have the right spacing between delegations. They started tripping over me and almost trampled me," he says with a laugh.

He also had to play "bad cop" with Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic. "He was talking with some little kids who were part of the ceremony and I had to ask him to get into line," Tong says. "He said, 'Are you telling me I can't talk to these kids?' and I told him, 'Not until you get into formation, then you can.' He wasn't too happy, but he got into line. When I realized a little later who he was, I ran over, apologized and got a picture with him, although he still wasn’t too happy with me."

Tong with Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic.

"It's a lot of hours and hard work in addition to my studies," he says, "but I've learned so much. And I love the spirit of the games, the generosity and commitment. That's really been the spirit of everyone involved here. It's a real celebration, all over London – electric, everyone's buzzing.

"I can't believe how blessed and lucky I am. I didn't plan this, it just happened. If we were paid and not volunteers, it wouldn't feel as exciting, and this way everything feels like a bonus. It's absolutely priceless.”

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