About Peter Mach
In honour of my father Minh Mach and teacher/friend Father Michael Agliardo, I am setting up this award and organization to help students who are in need of financial aid in order to keep their hopes and dreams alive through the advancement of their education. Because of the support given to me by my family and kind-hearted people like Michael, I was able to enjoy a fine education in America, which later allowed me to pursue a successful career and live a fulfilling life.
I was born Huynh Duc Minh on 04 April 1972 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The post-war years of the 1970s and 1980s were very difficult for most people living in Vietnam. As a street kid in Saigon until the age of 12, however, I had fun growing up and working odd jobs for money. At a young age, my two older siblings and I learned the meaning of love from our father, who chose to stay out eating peanuts for dinner so that we could have more food for ourselves at home. My sister Kathy demonstrated the true spirit of sacrifice as she was tasked at a young age to do all the household work and look after her two young brothers at home, while my father was out all day trying to make a living in order to put food on the table. Though we were poor and rarely had a chance to eat together, we always stuck together as a family with pride and dignity, which in hindsight was a product of my father’s character. My father was well self-educated, who continually put heavy emphasis on our education and supported our learning via private tutoring at home whenever he managed to earn extra money. He was an honest and ultra-responsible man with a strong sense of righteousness, which are qualities that I strive to uphold in my daily life today.
In February 1984 when I was 12 years old, we moved to Bronx, New York as refugees. While on public assistance from the government and studying at local public schools, all of us worked hard to learn English as quickly as possible and to earn money at the same time. My first “job” in the summer of 1984 was collecting soda cans up and down Fordham Road since I could make $5-10 per day for my family from selling all the cans at the supermarkets. One day with lots of soda cans in my possession, I ran into one particular classmate who confronted me and then laughed at my face, but I quickly got over the embarrassment and just kept on doing what I had to do. I later worked for minimum wages doing a bunch of odd jobs – stationery store clerk, Western Union representative, handyman fixing and painting homes, food packaging boy at a Chinese restaurant under intense heat, chef in a Chinese kitchen where we constantly faced robbery and threats from customers in a neighbourhood infested with gangs. Another memorable incident was when I got robbed at Carvel Ice Cream store with a gun pointed at my head. Today, I am grateful for those experiences.
My life took a dramatic turn when I was introduced to a teacher named Michael Agliardo in the late spring of 1987. I was about to graduate from Junior High School 143 in my neighbourhood and wanted to attend a high school where I did not have to run into Asian gangsters every day at the school. At this time, Michael was a young Jesuit priest coming out of Harvard University and came to help needy people in our community during that year. After meeting Michael and learning about his very own summer program called “HAP” (or “High Achievement Program”) at Saint Rita’s Center in our neighbourhood, I ended up attending the program and loving it. That summer changed my life in retrospect. Before the end of the summer, Michael prepared six of us to get admitted into Fordham Preparatory School with half scholarship and half work grant. To this day, I still do not know how he did it or where he raised the money for us, but I feel blessed and amazed every time I think about his good work. Prior to that summer, our English was not even good enough to pass the high school entrance examination. I had never heard of Fordham Prep or ever thought about attending any private
high school. In my mind, I simply wanted to get away from my bad neighbourhood and eventually get a job to help out my family financially. After all, I started working for money at a very young age in Vietnam and continued doing that since day one in America. I never thought about going to college because it was never a possibility up to this point of my life.
During the summer of my junior year in high school, Michael went one step further and got me financial support again to afford this Chinese Mandarin intensive training program at Indiana University. He knew of my interest in Chinese history and language, so he voluntarily went out of his way to help me take part in this summer program. Perhaps he saw potential in me at this point that I myself was unaware of. I witnessed college life for the first time and met wonderful teachers and older students from all walks of life (doctors, lawyers, academics, etc). Looking back now, I realize that I was growing intellectually under Michael’s guidance. Throughout our high school years, Michael kept in touch with all of us studying at Fordham Prep by writing letters, organizing social gatherings like dinners and fishing trips, inviting us to Harvard University for campus visits, etc. He opened our eyes to new possibilities and inspired us to have dreams. Even after we went on to study at different universities later, Michael always kept in touch and continued to encourage us with his
To this day, I still keep some handwritten letters from Michael and feel inspired whenever I read them once in a long while. Through all these years, Michael has always kept true to his Jesuit values and tradition of serving others selflessly in the most engaging manner. Best of all, we are great friends today. We have travelled many parts of the world together. My wife and I were emotionally touched and proud to have Michael preside over our wedding in July 2001. Without Michael’s support and inspiration, I would not be the same person today. Since the day we met at Saint Rita’s Center in the Bronx, he put me on the right path. I could have turned out to be a high school drop-out or a gangster or a Chinese restaurant worker. Instead, I graduated with both
undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University. I went on to have a successful career in finance at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, retiring from the industry as a Managing Director in 2007. I started my own hedge fund and worked in this industry for a few years before founding my own family office in 2012. At this point in my life, I am trying to do more to be “a man for others,” which is the motto and spirit of my high school Fordham Prep.
I believe in this great circle of life where what goes around comes around. When I was a poor student,
I took from my teacher Michael and the generous people who supported his causes in the Jesuit
community and beyond. Today, I am in a privileged and fortunate position to help some people who
are in need. It is time that I give back to society where I can. To me, education can make the biggest
difference in any person or country’s well-being, economically and spiritually. To me, good teachers
are absolutely some ofthe most inspiring people on earth. I hope this award can give teachers some
financial and spiritual support to keep doing what they do, no matter how difficult their circumstances
may be or how little recognition they may receive.