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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Business Administration Major Jonny Nguyen

Jonny Nguyen wears a graduation sash and smiles in front of a college building

Senior Jonathan “Jonny” Nguyen, a business administration major, passed away on May 27. He was 21.

Born on June 14, 2001, Nguyen was raised in Livermore and graduated from Granada High School in 2019, where he was a standout wrestler and had a reputation for his determination and joyous nature, which made him a great leader.

From his first year at Chico State, Nguyen made an immediate impression on his faculty and fellow students with his gregarious personality, fun-loving sense of adventure, and commitment to academic excellence. For the last year and a half, he worked at the Wildcat Recreation Center, and was also a member and vice president of the Ultimate Frisbee Club Team.

Marketing professor Bill McGowan describes Ngyuen as “a breath of fresh air.” He always had a smile on his face, worked to continuously improve his assignments until he earned a perfect score, and promptly sent McGowan “thank-you” emails when evaluation sheets were distributed. More importantly, he had a thoughtfulness and friendly nature that were unparalleled, McGowan said, fondly remembering one day they ran into one another at In-N-Out, where Nguyen had arrived with a large group of friends.

“He came over, tapped me on the back, and said, ‘Hey, are you sitting alone? I can sit with you.’ I said, ‘You’re with all your friends, don’t you want to sit with them?’ and he said ‘They have each other. I’d rather sit with you,’” McGowan said. “Jonny always had a smile on his face and two seconds later, anyone he came into contact with him had one too, including me.”

Nguyen was always upbeat and happy, recalled marketing professor Katie Mercurio. He excelled in her “Brand Strategy” course, where he and his team conducted a brand audit of Jell-O and interviewed children and teens to make their strategic recommendations—winning the class vote for best presentation.

“He was very interested in sales and marketing and brand strategy,” Mercurio said. “In particular, in the final five weeks of the course, he asked very insightful and challenging questions to his classmates in order to help them develop their own arguments and recommendations. … He was one semester away [from completing his degree], and his work was spectacular.”

Marketing professor Drake Brown also remembers Nguyen as a well-prepared student, respectful in his way of addressing problems, and mature in his thinking. After a role-play activity where students have the option to record themselves to study their delivery later, he recalls that Nguyen wanted to review it as soon as possible.

“He was genuinely champing at the bit to learn from it,” Brown said. “He wasn’t satisfied just to get the grade. He was trying to squeeze all the knowledge out of that class that he could. It was inspiring to see. He was going to be a solid business executive someday.”

Peers, colleagues, and supervisors were effusive in describing Nguyen as someone with an uninhibited nature who was always encouraging others to be better people—whether more positive, less stressed, or simply kinder.

“Jonny’s friendly and inclusive personality welcomed others and helped them feel like they belong,” said Jenna Walker, program director of Adventure Outings. “He encouraged other students to explore their potential and enthusiastically supported them as they anxiously tried indoor climbing for the first time, pushed their limits on a route, or finally achieved a difficult move that had previously eluded them.”

WREC assistant director Colin Chambers, his supervisor and Ultimate Frisbee coach, remembers fondly how Nguyen would show up at practice straight from work, sometimes having worked both at the climbing wall and then officiating for intramural sports. 

“He’d walk up in his cutoff jorts and cowboy boots shoveling food into his mouth, usually some sort of protein … It was always a guessing game of whether he was there to practice or just say hi and support his teammates,” Chambers said. “In his own words, he never loved Frisbee—he kept playing for his teammates. He brought the same fire and passion to the field that he took everywhere, and I’d always look to him for a spark of energy or to lift the team’s morale.”

Nguyen loved to be the center of attention and his showman personality also came in handy with his major. Chambers noted that at one of the last Ultimate Frisbee practices, Nguyen’s teammates who had classes with him discussed how much he excelled at sales projects. As soon as he started talking, he could sell anything, they agreed.

Nguyen was proud to be the champion of the Chico State corn hole tournament in 2020. He loved surfing and snowboarding and had plans to move to San Diego after graduation to pursue a career in sales.

His family expressed gratitude to his friends and the Wildcat community for the outpouring of love and support they have experienced since his passing. They said they are thankful Nguyen spent the last four years surrounded by people he loved and considered his family. Anyone with pictures or videos of him is asked to share them on this photo-sharing app.

Nguyen is survived by his mother, Genevieve Pontillas, father Lai Nguyen, sisters Lauren and Maile Nguyen, and grandparents Elizabeth Pontillas, Bay Tran, and Bay Nguyen. Friends of the family have organized a GoFundMe to help offset costs for a memorial. A viewing will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday, June 9, with a vigil to follow from 7–8 p.m. at Callaghan Mortuary in Livermore. On Saturday, June 10, a mass will be held from 11–12:3 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Livermore, with a reception to follow from 1–3:30 p.m. at the Granada High School Gym in Livermore. Guests are asked to wear a Hawaiian shirt to the reception. An evening celebration will follow at 4 p.m. at La Botica Restaurant in Livermore.

The University flag will be lowered Thursday, June 8, in his memory.