Happiness Is Now

Happiness+Is+Now

Journalism Student

Infusing dance with his motivational speeches, Diamond Bar High School class of 1994 alumnus Danny Vuong-Batimana travels across North America through his organization, Happiness Is Now. 

Prior to becoming an inspiration speaker, Vuong-Batimana had an extensive career. After he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cal State Fullerton, the alumnus became a professional dancer. Voung-Batimana choreographed for NBA teams, including the Lakers, Clippers and Portland Trailblazers, and was a mathematics teacher at West Covina High School for eight years.

Vuong-Batimana changed career paths after fulfilling what he believed to be the American dream: achieving financial success, purchasing a car and a house and getting married. 

“I achieved all that early, but that was at a point where I was at my most depressed state in my thirties. I decided, ‘Look, I can’t do this anymore, and I need to find out what makes me happy,’” he said in a phone interview. 

According to Vuong-Batimana, he began his journey of finding his true purpose at a Buddhist monastery in San Diego. There, he learned how to meditate, became vegan, studied positive psychology and watched numerous TED Talks. 

Brene Brown’s TED Talk, in particular, galvanized Vuong-Batimana to have his own. In November 2011, he spoke at [email protected] 

“I was like ‘Okay, my path is to spread happiness to as many people as possible and youth,’ because I think a lot of people are jaded about what happiness is,” he said.

Also, Vuong-Batimana credits a study, which ranked America as the 19th happiest nation, as his reason for motivational speaking. 

“Our values are screwed up, and the things that we strive for don’t necessarily make us happy,” he said. 

Vuong-Batimana’s first speech through Happiness Is Now  was at Chaparral Middle School in 2011.  

“I had a group of dancers to kind of back me up, and I knew that I wanted to dance and have the audience interact and learn the dance,” he said.

Even now, this technique of incorporating dance is a vital aspect of all of Vuong-Batimana’s presentations. 

“As a speaker, there’s a certain formula that you have to have…to connect with the kids fast and for me, the dancing is the connector,” he said.

Although Vuong-Batimana worked with young people  as a high school teacher, giving motivational speeches to children still proved to be a learning curve for him. 

“I had no mentor…I jumped into this with no knowledge,” he said. “I just kind of like went to schools and figured it all out along the way with a lot of failures and a lot of success.”

            Most of the alumnus’s speeches are about his childhood and identity. As a first generation Filipino American, Vuong-Batimana’s mom raised him with traditional ideals and pushed him toward academic excellence, while his dad was a hands-off parent. In Vuong-Batimana’s sophomore year of high school, his dad was sent to prison for eight years.

“We went from living in like a nice two-story bedroom house to an apartment here in Diamond Bar, but nobody knew that this tragedy had happened, because I faked it very well,” Vuong-Batimana said. “I was popular, and I was well-liked by my peers and my teachers, but if you really got to know me, I was turning inside, I was lost and I was feeling a lot of pain.”

He also battled with hiding his sexuality during this time. Vuong-Batimana identifies as a gay man and is married to his partner, Westin Vuong-Batimana. 

“I had some schools and parents revolt and complain to the school board about me sharing about how I got married, but there are a lot of kids who are battling something and especially sexuality or just like who they are,” he said. “If I just mention it then I think I changed lives…so I have to think greater than myself…if I don’t get booked again then that’s fine.”

Vuong-Batimana explained that despite being a part of the LGBTQYA community, his faith in Christianity is his biggest motivation.

“I was always told in church I’m an abomination or like I’m a mistake and I would go to hell, but after my father passed away earlier this year, I saw God,” he said. “I feel like I have a larger purpose, and it’s bigger than me, so I need to help as many people as possible.”

Vuong-Batimana’s introverted personality serves as a challenge and a motivator for him. 

“When you’re looking at a thousand students in the audience, there’s students that are sleeping, there’s students that are giving you dirty looks [and] there’s students that are happy,” he said. “That takes its toll on me, but the excitement of me trying to prove [myself] and to connect is the exciting part.”

Vuong Batimana has spoken at K-12 schools in various locations such as Canada, Texas and Boston, but he hopes to return and speak at DBHS in the future. He recognized a need for reform after the opening of SAT Professionals on Pathfinder.

“When I realized that there was a problem in Diamond Bar was when they took away my ditching spot: Denny’s,” he said. “We don’t need a SAT school, there’s so many around, that just told me what the focus of the parents and the community was, which is school.”

Vuong-Batimana has the opposite mentality himself.

“ I 100 percent believe [the focus] is not school,” he said. “I don’t care how smart you are and what school you get into, if you don’t have those basics of being a kind person, how to internalize your feelings or how to balance your stress, I don’t think you’ll ever get your happiness.”

Vuong-Batimana hopes to encourage Brahmas to look beyond academics and college applications.

“I want Diamond Bar students to just not put so much pressure on themselves and to realize the decisions that they make as a junior or senior don’t dictate what they’re going to be in the future,” he said.

Regardless of where he speaks, Vuong-Batimana hopes students can at least get one takeaway.

“Your job is to find what you gravitate towards, what really sparks your inner soul, what truly makes you happy and what makes your heart sings, because in the end, this is your life; you [only] get one,” he said.