East Meets West : Quynh-Tram Le ’97 and Frank Chiaramonte ’96
Tram met Frank at Montgomery College during the early 1990s. Originally from Vietnam, she immigrated to Gaithersburg with her family in 1990. Frank, a displaced Brooklyn, New York, native, left behind an air-conditioning business in 1992 and moved to Maryland looking for a more satisfying life. Both enrolled at Montgomery College.
Tram and Frank met through mutual friends—Thanh Tran, Tracy Van Cao ’99 and Quan Dang ’96—and through their on-campus jobs: she worked in the Technical Center’s architecture/CAD lab; he worked in the mathematics lab. Occasionally, Tram helped Frank in the math lab, but she avoided him as a tutor.
Tram: “Frank talked loud and always tried to speak in Vietnamese.”
Frank: “Tram would listen to Vietnamese music while in the lab. Once it was amplified so everyone in the center could hear it. She didn’t understand why everyone was looking at her. I explained it to her, and she was embarrassed.”
Tram and Frank nearly dated while at MC … a few times. Frank learned to dance so he could ask her out (after learning to dance in the college parking lot by pal Thanh Tran). He asked her in Vietnamese. She turned him down.
Tram: “He was too formal.”
Later, Frank was encouraged by Tracy Van Cao to ask Tram out dancing. He asked her for coffee, instead. Tram accepted and the pair met at Ba-Le on Rockville Pike. Frank asked her out to dance over coffee, and they agreed to meet that night at the Technical Building at 9 p.m.
Frank: “I arrived at 9:05.”
Tram: “He was too late, so I left.”
Frank: “She’s still a stickler about time.”
Months later, Tram and Frank met again in the parking lot at the National Institutes of Health, where they had each been hired, unbeknownst to each. They continued to meet for picnic lunches, and Tram began to see Frank in a new light.
Tram: “He was a dedicated student. Our first date was to study at the University of Maryland because MC’s library closed too early on the weekends.”
Tram and Frank married June 7, 1997. Today, the couple has four sons and run their own business, Chiaramonte Construction. Tram is company president; she manages business operations. Frank manages construction field operations.
Frank graduated in 1996 with 121 credits (far more than required). Tram earned a degree from UMUC in 2003. Their business has grown from a small room in their house to a 60-employee operation with two offices in Washington, D.C., and one in Frederick, Md. Chiaramonte Construction has been recognized within the industry for outstanding work. In 2009, they received an emerging minority business award from the National Association of Minority Contractors in D.C. They hired their old friends, Tracy Van Cao and Quan Dang, for the company’s accounting operations.
Frank: “Van helped us get together, and now she counts our beans.”
By another turn, Frank’s pal from the MC Italian Club, Tony Santini, called him to build his barber shop.
Frank: “Our friends from MC are sincere. We have had similar struggles, helped each other, and accomplished much, thanks to our shared educational foundation. … I definitely have no regrets. Tram and I are truly thankful for meeting and learning together at MC. It has an atmosphere that encouraged multicultural bonds and long-lasting relationships.”
In summer 2009, Tram asked Frank to return to Montgomery College; not as a student, but as chauffeur. He was to pick up three of their children who were attending summer science classes on campus.
Frank: “This was my first trip back to MC. It was very nostalgic, to say the least. I picked up my children right where I took graduation pictures. The campus was under construction, but my memories of the place… were evident.”
One of the College’s building services workers greeted Frank and asked how he’d been.
Frank: “I had not seen him for 16 years, and he was still my friend. I went to the Math Center and Carol Ramos (Burbage) is still helping students with math. I visited the Technical Building, and Mario Parcan and Patty Secreto are still helping students. What a wonderful place this is! So close, personal, and ready to be discovered by the next generation of students, and this time, it just happens to be our own.”