Friday, May 2, 2014

SMART Goes to College 2014 Keynote Speech: Jonathan Wang

Since, 6th grade, I’ve boarded a bus that transports me from the Bayview, one of the city’s most crime ridden districts, to Pacific Heights, the city’s most affluent zip code. This journey connected my home to my schools, Town School for Boys and now University High School. I’ve found this fifty-minute bus ride to be analogous to my family’s transformative journey with the SMART program.

It began in kindergarten when my mom marched ambitiously through the hallways of a reputable public elementary school, determined to obtain a spot for me. When my admission was denied, she broke down into tears. It was another setback after a difficult year between the arrival of my newborn sister, the divorce, and the financial condition that my father left us in, that finally broke her spirits. Her fear of a future fraught with uncertainty allowed me to understand, from an early age, that MY education would be the solution to our financial instability as well as a coping mechanism for the emotional and physical bruises that my father left us.

In fourth grade, I learned that my mom was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, a viral disease that no medication could cure. I was perplexed by her condition, and I asked lot questions about her recovery, but when I received no answers, my curiosity turned into frustration. Just when I was about ready to accept my situation, I was introduced by my 4th grade teacher to an academic opportunity that would allay many of my mom’s anxieties and my curiosities with her disease.

Recruiting talented and motivated low-income students, the SMART program offered me the resources to attend some of the best private middle schools in the city. So, when I was offered to attend an all-boy school in an affluent neighborhood in San Francisco, I was excited, but also wary. The prospect of competing against more privileged students who have received a top-tier education was intimidating. However, Town School for Boys offered me an abundance of resources and provided me with a laptop, a huge benefit especially since I didn’t have access to a computer at home.

However, what I found at the new middle school was much more than just the coveted laptop. I found a group of peers that piqued and propagated my intellectual curiosity. I became a part of an intimate community, wherein most classmates came from wealthier backgrounds, yet families were not judgmental but rather helped me integrate smoothly into the school.

Outside of school, I was supported by the SMART community, which was filled with energetic students who came from similar backgrounds to mine, all determined to pursue higher levels of education. With SMART, I finally found the symbolic shuttle to bring me, and my family, from our lives in the Bayview to lives filled with more opportunities.

During the past four years at University High School, I discovered my passion for biology and genetics. I found myself intellectually and emotionally drawn to classes like molecular and microbiology, as I learned that the viral illness, that has been so poignant in my mom’s life, is extremely common in the Asian community. Since then, I’ve been captivated by genetics and the endless possibilities that DNA brings to finding cures for different illnesses.

This brings us to the present. When I was initially approached to speak here tonight—my first instinct was to say NO. I was worried that I wasn’t the dynamic speaker SMART was seeking, that my story is not interesting – but mostly, I was nervous.

Instead, I said yes. YES has opened doors to academic opportunities. YES has challenged me in some of the best academic institutions in the city. YES gave me the strength to discover what I love and what I want to devote my career to. Thanks to SMART, I said yes to opportunities that if you asked my family about 10 years ago, would have seemed a laughable impossibility.

Just as my world opened up 7 years ago on that first bus ride across the city -- tonight, I’m proud to announce, that I’m preparing for my next life-changing journey. In the fall of 2014, I will be attending the University of Southern CA. As a first generation college student, I plan to maximize the opportunities college offers and use it as a stepping stone to uncovering more truths about genetics, an issue that has been so pertinent to my life.

Thanks to SMART and all its supporters, the journey getting here has truly been an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to pursue the next chapter of my life. Thank you.

SMART Goes to College 2014 Student Speech: Angela Xie

Hello, my name is Angela Xie, and I am extremely honored to speak on behalf of SMART and The San Francisco Friends School, two communities that have been such an integral part of my life.

I began my journey at Jean Parker Elementary School, a community filled with students who, like me, are Chinese American. The teachers were great, I excelled in school, and both my parents and I had lots of friends who were able to communicate in our native language. Imagine my surprise when my parents suddenly decided I will be transferring to San Francisco Friends School! At such a young age, I did not understand why my parents would pull me from a school where all my friends were and enter me into a brand new environment where I didn't know anyone. I was angry and I was sad.

Reluctantly, I walked through these doors my first day determined to prove to my parents they made a terrible mistake. I was pleasantly surprised when the teacher walked up and handed me a laptop, explaining that we could use them for class. There were Smart boards, new textbooks and an incredible library. Most significantly, I was no longer expected to memorize facts only to forget them a short while later. I learned formulas because I learned why they work. Creativity, technology, even student participation were all expected aspects of the Friends school curriculum. While my success in a public school relied on being good at taking notes and memorizing, at Friends I became more engaged and wanted to work even harder.

I learned to love learning.

In the midst of all these opportunities, I faced some hardships and challenges vastly different from what I expected on my first day at Friends. I translated often for my parents who were unable to communicate to my teachers. I quickly noticed how my peers around me were more affluent and unlike Jean Parker, at that time, I was the only Chinese speaking student. These differences I noticed could have easily put a damper on this new exciting opportunity, but it didn't - because of SMART.

At SMART I quickly made new friends who also felt that their transition into private school was difficult. I received a tutor, who to this day is one of my closest friends. Most importantly, SMART helped me see that Friends school is actually a community that embraces and celebrates differences. I learned that being different is a gift and SMART has helped me find my pride in being Asian and tri-lingual.

Through the incredible education I received at Friends and the support my family and I received at SMART, I am proud and extremely excited to enroll in my first choice high school - The Bay School of San Francisco. While I am sad to say goodbye to Friends this year, I feel I can continue to get what I love most about Friends at Bay, which are strong academics combined with a close community of students and teachers. I attribute my success to Friends, who set the framework, and SMART will still be here with me as I begin my high school journey.

I’ve already made a decision on what college I want to go to. In four years, I hope to see myself at Stanford University because they have a strong science program. I have a dream to give back and help others by advancing medicine.

Thank you Friends and thank you SMART for shaping and influencing who I am today, and for all of your time tonight in supporting these incredible communities.