Cy Thao graduated in 1995, receiving a bachelor of arts in political science and studio art. He helped found the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent in St. Paul and served as its first director. In 2000 he received a Bush Artist Fellowship that allowed him to complete a series of 50 oil paintings that he had begun as a student in 1993. The exhibition, "The Hmong Migration: Fifty Paintings" chronicles 5000 years of Hmong history beginning with creation stories and ending with a world map showing the many countries where Hmong people now make their homes. The powerful and moving exhibition was featured at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 2004.
Jenny Nellis, professor of studio art, nominated Thao for the award. She noted Thao's dedication to serving others as exemplary, as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, as a member of the Hmong community, and as a member of the UMM community.
Nellis describes Thao's efforts on behalf of the Hmong living in Minnesota and studying at UMM as "uplifting and inspirational." In 2002 Thao launched a successful bid as representative for District 65A, the Frogtown neighbor in St. Paul which is home to a large Hmong population. In his service to UMM, the multi-ethnic student population, including the Asian Student Organization, has particularly appreciated Thao's support and guidance. He received the UMM Multi-Ethnic Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004.
(From the 2005 news story)