Ten-year-old Phan Van Binh professed himself to be "a little bit embarrassed" yesterday, but the third grader from Arlington County's Abingdon Elementary School said nonetheless that "I did a great job" and deserved the honor.
Phan, who said he did "two or three pages" of homework every night, was one of 116 students from area schools to be praised for outstanding academic work in an unusual afternoon ceremony. All were from Vietnamese families.
The students, many of them the children of refugees, drew praise from Education Secretary William J. Bennett. "The story of the Vietnamese in America -- especially in the American school system -- is one of success," Bennett said in a letter to the group.
"You have been here 10 short years and have accomplished much . . . . By showing that perseverance, more than any possession, leads to success, you have reminded us of some of your own values," the Cabinet secretary said.
"We're trying to improve the children to achieve their best economic success," said Xe Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Parents Association whose members are parents of the 4,600 Vietnamese students in area public schools.
About 60 teachers and school administrators who have lent their support to immigrant students also were lauded during the Arlington group's Teacher Appreciation and Vietnamese Student Recognition Day at Kenmore Intermediate School.
"Since we began coming here in 1975, we have believed that the future of the whole Vietnamese people . . . was in our children's schooling," said Nguyen Ngoc Lieu, chairman of yesterday's event. "We would like to express our deepest gratitude for all you have done for our children."
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) joined the ceremonies to congratulate the Vietnamese, telling them that he is the grandson of an immigrant. "It is my fondest hope and . . . expectation" that in the near future "there will be a Vietnamese name" among those of his colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Despite the heat, Kenmore's auditorium was overflowing with proud Vietnamese parents. A stage backdrop symbolized the community's hope and its appreciation. For the students, there was a bright rainbow with a tall daisy and the words "Bright Future."
And for the teachers, many of whom teach English as a second language, there was a huge red apple and the words "Thank You."
Area Vietnamese business persons donated watches, books, calculators and tape recorders as prizes for the students who represented schools in Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Montgomery County, Falls Church and the District.
Many of them have been in the United States only a few years, but all have achieved high marks in their schools.
Nguyen Ngoc Son, a sixth grader from Page Elementary in Arlington, fled Vietnam by boat two years ago. His last report card listed "four As and four Bs."
"It's good here," he said, "because the schools are good and the people are kind."
Cao Hung Kiet, a ninth grader at the District's Alice Deal Junior High School, said he was probably chosen "because I'm the Einstein of Alice Deal, that's what they call me."
Cao has been quick to pick up fashion trends in his six years here. His all-white cotton suit looked like one from the closet of actor Don Johnson of TV's "Miami Vice," a visitor noted.
"Washington Vice," Cao said, grinning