Toan Lam, Media Studies '00

Headlines With Heart

Fed up with “death and destruction,” former reporter Toan Lam ’00 now looks for stories that inspire.

When Toan Lam ’00 learned he’d been laid off, he couldn’t have been happier.

Sure, it derailed a career he’d spent a decade building, and, yes, he wasn’t sure exactly what would come next. But he was ready for a new path. Years climbing the television news ladder had led to a dream reporting gig at San Francisco station KRON — but covering “death and destruction” day after day wore on him. He yearned to bring more positive stories to the world.

“I wanted to use my skills to give back,” says Toan, who’d also had a stint as co-host of PBS’ California Heartland. “When I use my platform for the greater good is when I really experience joy.”

$150,000 for lemonade

Getting laid off allowed Toan to turn his attention to documenting good deeds done by everyday people. He created Go Inspire Go, a nonprofit that publishes real-life stories about people making a difference and that inspires others to join the effort by donating money and time to causes. 

The fact USF is rooted in changing the hearts and minds of people to do good — that resonated with me. USF strengthened my values. I was able to meet people who reflected me.

He tells the story of a New York City bus driver who spends his evenings cooking and distributing meals to more than 150 hungry people at a nearby subway stop. And an 8-year-old girl from Fairfax, California who started a lemonade stand to raise money to free modern slaves like child laborers, and ended up with more than $150,000 when her effort went viral on social media. There’s also the UCLA professor who loaned his home to a homeless mother with four children for a year so the family could get back on its feet. 

They’re all featured in videos produced by Toan and shared online through Go Inspire Go, which has been highlighted by Forbes and Good Morning America. The nonprofit launched an elementary school program in partnership with a Marin County mom, using the videos as educational material to inspire children to develop their own service projects.

 A writing professor, a mentor, and a job fair

Toan started Go Inspire Go in 2009 and became a motivational speaker in 2010 — encouraging people to be their “authentic selves” and to “be better and do better for themselves and others.” This January, he launched the podcast TruthDare, which delivers his message of authenticity through interviews with inspiring writers, musicians, and others.

It all stems from USF, where the media studies alumnus says he was encouraged by his professors to follow his heart. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, but Toan — a voracious reader and writer — felt most empowered when he was being creative.

At USF, a writing professor praised his work.

“I’d never been told I was a good writer and communicator by anyone before I went to USF,” Toan remembers. Then he met a mentor, journalism Professor Michael Robertson, who told him he had what it took to become a journalist. Robertson taught him the fundamentals.

At a USF job fair, Toan met another mentor, a television director, who helped him land an MSNBC internship — one of five news internships he had in college, helping him launch his career.

Finding his American dream

Toan has his own inspiring story: His family, Vietnamese immigrants, arrived in America with almost no money. Toan was raised in a trailer in a Sacramento neighborhood where drive-by shootings were common.

 He attended USF thanks to scholarships and financial aid, and by working on and off campus.

“The fact USF is rooted in changing the hearts and minds of people to do good — that resonated with me,” says Toan. “USF strengthened my values. I was able to meet people who reflected me.”

Now, Toan believes he’s found his “American Dream” in a life encouraging people to be positive, to follow their passions, and to help others. 

“I’m just doing what I love,” he says. “The goodness you put out into the world — even just a small gesture or a positive attitude — it comes back tenfold.”