Friday, May 2, 2014
SMART Goes to College 2014 Keynote Speech: Jonathan Wang
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.