The title is a reference to all the young Europeans I’ve worked with ever since I discovered the Internet over a decade ago. Here we tend to say graduate from college, while the term ‘finishing uni’ is what they tend to tell me. They both mean the same thing, but their choice of words is interesting to me. It’s like how NA League of Legends players call the dragon ‘drag’ while EU players call it ‘drake’ – no contextual difference, just different terms.
As of today, I have officially finished my last undergraduate class at UC-Berkeley. It’s a refreshing feeling, being done with higher education. My mom keeps bugging me about graduate school in the future, and maybe I’ll consider at some point in time, but right now I need a break. So much of education in modern-day America is just so superficial, especially if you’re attending one of the best public universities in the world that also happens to be a theory school. Of course, I’m a huge fan of the Berkeley approach that emphasizes concepts in lectures and readings while testing practical application in its exams over any college that tries to be purely practical. It’s important that we know why we are doing things in a certain way, and Berkeley has an absolutely wonderful system.
These things being said, I really wish there was some sort of ‘reality class’ taught in high school or college. I know there are workshops, but with so much of capitalist America being what it is, why isn’t a class on creating a good resume and conducting a good interview mandatory?
My Educational Life
I’m no teacher, but I have considered becoming one at some point. One thing I think about often is, how will I raise my future children? I know teachers have a big impact on a child’s life, especially in the early grades, but parents have and always will be the greatest teachers. I can only hope I can take the best methods I have learned from being taught as a student and bestow them upon my future children.
Elementary School – Shawnee
I grew up in Shawnee, Oklahoma. My house had a large front yard and back yard, and despite the fact that I was one of the few Asians in a school that was predominantly white, I felt accepted. I was ‘one of the guys’ – I got into fights during recess (I still remember getting sent to the principal’s office and agreeing with the others to forgive each other and not incriminate anyone right before we went in), participated in school sports, and most importantly of all, learned to love reading. I was also superstitious – I had trouble sleeping at night a lot of times, so I would crawl out of my room towards the hallway. Our house was quite old and I thought I heard voices in the hallway. At first I was scared, but later on I tried talking to these voices, which apparently woke my parents up and they would often yell from their room for me to go to bed (I also tried using flashlights and various toys to the same consequence). I’ll never know whether I was crazy as a young child or if I really did hear voices, because I swear I did.
The school I attended was called South Rock Creek, named after our street (if I remember correctly). It ran from kindergarten to the eighth grade so it didn’t qualify as an elementary or middle school – it was basically both. The education seemed decent, at least from my perspective. I remember getting into small groups and reading out loud to each other while the teacher would walk around and make sure we were pronouncing words properly. I really enjoyed that. The school had us record the books we read and turn in a list at the end of the year as a way to track our progress. At the end of first grade, I had set a school record with the number of books I had read. To be honest, some of those books were short stories that I wrote myself (hahaha), but my parents told me I had to read one hour for each hour of video gaming, and apparently writing my own stories counted in that. I’m not sure if they knew I was cheating the system, but they certainly approved of my creativity. And so even from a young age, I was learning the extent to which I could break rules, which would later cause me to adopt Orson Scott Card’s phrase, “Learn the rules and they will set you free”, wholeheartedly.
In the second grade I learned a lesson in friendship and competition. I had a neighbor named Tara who had a fancy trampoline in her backyard (I could be confusing this fact with someone else, but I’m pretty sure it was her). We played together quite often in the first grade, although I don’t remember how I balanced all that reading, writing, and video gaming along with it – my parents were just really good at keeping me organized. Tara is the one who introduced me to the board game Monopoly, which I instantly fell in love with because the concept of a game revolving around buying property and using that property to beat others really sparked my business instinct. One of the issues we had was, what happens if I land on my own property? We weren’t very bright at the time and Tara suggested that maybe I pay myself. I took this to mean that I could take money from the bank and pay myself rent, which I did – for some odd reason I didn’t realize money has to come from somewhere (I was six or seven, gimme a break!).
Tara stopped playing with me in the second grade. This was really weird to me, since I didn’t understand why I was losing a friend. I remember knocking on her door and asking her if she could come play. She would always go and ask her grandma, and then come back in tears telling me no. Eventually I stopped asking her, but I didn’t understand why until the end of the year. I read quite modestly in the second grade, but it was far below the record I had set the previous year, and I remember turning in an above-average reading list. At the end of the year awards, the school gave prizes to the best reading students. Having previously received the award and being told I had set a new record, I didn’t care much until I heard a number higher than mine, and saw Tara walk across the gym floor to receive it. I was stunned – our friendship had been exchanged for a rivalry I didn’t even know existed, and I cried.
When I reconnected with Tara on Facebook 12 years later (thanks to the help of another old friend, Robyn), I remember seeing the words ‘I hate books’ in the books section of her profile. I’m not sure if she’s changed it by now, but I do distinctly remember seeing those words and thinking of how her grandma refused to let her play outside because she needed to read more. There’s probably more to the story, but that’s how I saw things from my perspective.
Elementary, Middle, and High School – Moore
We moved from Shawnee to Moore partly through the third grade. I don’t remember saying good-byes to people, although thanks to an incredibly powerful memory I’m able to remember some of their names and faces. Moore was different. It had standards that far exceeded Shawnee’s. It had teachers that pushed me to learn more and to try harder. Moving was hard for me, since I didn’t know anyone. I got in trouble for talking too much and despite my loudmouthing, it seemed like I couldn’t relate to anybody. Teachers told me I couldn’t jump out of the swings at recess because I might hurt myself or other students, even though I had years of swing-jumping experience. I became isolated and introverted as I grew jealous of the fact that everyone else knew each other and treated each other very well while sometimes my peers would disrespect me openly. My first year in the Moore school system was my first encounter with racism. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t belong in the world. I think if I didn’t have my previous memories of being experienced and loved by people in South Rock Creek, I would have attempted suicide. My parents didn’t really know how to explain racism to me, and I didn’t fully understand it.
I did have one friend though, and his name is Parker. He’s still my best friend today even though we don’t have many of the same interests anymore. He’s a guy that never really has any enemies and can be friends with anyone. Sometimes I wish I could be like that, but I know it’s not in my nature to treat everyone equally because I was denied the same thing from many of my peers at a young age.
The greatest highlight of the third grade year was when my teacher asked me to represent her class in the school spelling bee. Apparently I had the highest spelling score in the entire class (partly thanks to all the reading I did). When I told my parents about it, they told me I needed to dedicate at least an hour each day to practicing spelling. They bought me spelling materials and I used a variety of methods from reading, listening, and spelling out loud. While I didn’t learn word origins, I developed what I like to call ‘instinctive capability’. I destroyed the school spelling bee that year. Some of the other students asked me why I didn’t look happy when I won, and to be honest, I was disappointed that the competition couldn’t match me in skill. I know it sounds arrogant, but I realized at the time that I was on a completely higher level than my peers when it came to spelling. I didn’t win regionals that year, mostly because I didn’t study or prepare for it. However, winning the spelling bee in front of the entire school made me a mini-celebrity, and it seemed like my peers finally started to accept me because I finally proved to them that I was a school champion in something. I would go on to demonstrate dominance in Moore spelling bees, eventually winning the State Bee in the eighth grade and being one of two OK representatives at the national bee in 2006. Of course, I wasn’t very prepared for nationals (read a short article on it here that makes me seem like a smart-alec), but going to nationals made me realize how much stronger education was in other states and it instilled within me an early desire to seek higher education elsewhere. In addition, it made me understand that setting my standards based on the people around me would never be enough – if I wanted to do something powerful with my life, I was going to have to take on the world.
In the Moore Public Schools, reading was gauged by a software called Accelerated Reader. I believe the system is no longer active, but it added a quantitative element to books that I despised. I read books for pleasure, not because they were worth a certain number of points. Regardless, the AR system introduced me to the concept of a quota, and it gave me freedom to decide how I wanted to meet that quota. This system was in place before I had taken any major standardized tests like AP, and after a few book quizzes I learned that meeting this quota was actually less about reading and more about knowing general story outlines and making proper deductions. Sparknotes didn’t exist at the time, but that didn’t stop me from looking up book summaries online and then taking AR tests, using critical thinking skills to answer questions that I wasn’t sure about. This allowed me to meet the quota each year quite easily while allowing me to read the books I actually wanted to read (and yes, I did read a lot of books each year). I also complained that many great books didn’t have AR tests, and the librarian agreed to let me read such books and create the tests for them, which also made the quota that much easier for me (you can’t fail a test you yourself made, right?).
Fifth and sixth grade were quite a blur to me. This was when classes started moving around to different teachers and we learned subjects from teachers who specifically focused on a certain topic. This was also my first experience with specialization, and I realized I was learning more than I had previously. I think at this point I realized ruling the world was a terrible aspiration, because a jack-of-all-trades would be terrible leader (I didn’t understand bureaucracy or the concept of a presidential cabinet at this time). My goals shifted a bit, and instead of owning a global empire I decided I just wanted to own a web empire (which is getting more and more realizable by this point, haha). I spent a lot of my free time dabbling with HTML, CSS, and PHP – all net languages. The concept of owning my own space, even if it was digital, really attracted me.
Junior high was a drastic change for me. A lot of people I knew changed and reinvented themselves, while I more or less stayed the same. I joined band because I wanted to learn how to play flute. Band taught me a lot of things about precision and timing, and I would spend hours at home practicing. Playing an instrument was real – you couldn’t trick your way to a good tone or to good technique the same way you could get through a lot of standardized tests. Of course, the academic tests were getting much harder for me at this time (I was taking Pre-AP courses), but my parents were really supportive in this area and helped me maintain straight As all the way through.
I already mentioned I went to the national spelling bee in the eighth grade, the final year a student is eligible to compete. What I didn’t mention was getting my first girlfriend at the time through the bee. Of course, it was long distance since she lived in Ohio, but we used technology to the best of our ability to stay in touch. We wrote poetry to each other, called each other late at night and played games together online. It was epic and quite real. I broke off the relationship after a month for several reasons, but I know a long-distance relationship can work and I’m not afraid to try one again in the future.
High school was a very memorable time for me. I attended Westmoore High School for one year and became friends with some very talented and smart people. When I heard the announcement that a new high school called Southmoore was going to be built and that I was going to be given the option of switching, I decided I would. It was a bit hard for me to make the decision, since Westmoore has very high academic standards and a lot of my friends stayed. Still, the prospect of going to a new school and doing something powerful really appealed to me. I decided to try a new sport, cross country, and I discovered a love for running. I became active in National Honor Society and served as president during my senior year. I also took an active interest in school clubs, most notably Youth and Government (now changed to Youth in Government).
I graduated co-salutatorian, although I had to talk to the principal about the terrible scoring system and how certain classes I took in junior high were bringing down my GPA for no reason, despite having made As in them. He was quite receptive and we arranged a deal to have these classes removed until after graduation (my high school transcript should now say I am #3 in the class). I made stellar scores on my AP exams (mostly 4s and 5s) thanks to great teachers and a bunch of Princeton Review books that taught me certain techniques and strategies. My high school record is nearly flawless and on paper I was the model student, which of course is not really true if you’ve read everything beforehand. I’m a risk taker, a systems thinker, and I don’t hesitate to take shortcuts so I can do the things I think I should be doing.
I applied to seven colleges knowing that I had a high chance to be rejected by all of them. I told myself if I didn’t get into any of these colleges, I was going to take a break for a semester and apply again. I desperately wanted to leave Oklahoma for higher education and specifically wanted to learn with and from the best. The colleges I applied to were:
- Stanford University (#1 choice, rejected, but was told I was a tough decision in the letter and to consider reapplying next semester)
- University of California, Berkeley (accepted, attended)
- Cornell University (rejected)
- University of Illinois (waitlisted, removed from list after committing to Berkeley)
- Harvey Mudd (rejected)
- MIT (rejected; an alumni specifically told me being Asian worked against me here)
- University of Texas, Austin (accepted, declined)
- Harvard? I don’t remember, but was rejected
The stories I wrote for most of these college admissions were fictional with the exception of a story about friendship and rivalry (yes, Tara, that was about you). I still have them on my desktop, and I remember sharing them on Facebook with friends who were one grade below me in the hopes that they would help others get into competitive colleges.
Undergraduate Life – UC Berkeley
Coming to California is one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made. I used to think I was a tolerant person, but I never realized how intolerant I was. There’s something about the diversity here and the way people can have random hobbies and be celebrated that just doesn’t exist in the conservative Midwest. Sometimes I walk down the street here and some random people will set down a boom box and say, “Can I have everyone’s attention? We’re going to be performing on America’s Got Talent this season and we’d like to give you a sneak peak!” Some of the ‘talents’ are questionable, but everyone claps at the end and it’s amazing. This never happens in Oklahoma, largely for a number of reasons that include weather, social norms, and physical closeness.
I struggled in my first two years at Berkeley. I always thought I would be an electrical engineer, but by the end of my sophomore year after all prerequisites were done and I had taken my first actual engineering class, I realized I didn’t like engineering. What I liked was computer science, and not just any computer science – I liked the creative aspect. One of the required computer science classes here for CS and engineering majors is a low-level compilers course. I didn’t want to take this course since I’m not interested in low-level things and preferred to work with frameworks and engines that already invented the wheel for me. I switched to Sociology since I really enjoyed my Sociology I class, and my GPA was not good enough for business school.
Sociology gave me a lot of free time compared to my life in engineering. I found I could go out and watch movies, play video games, work on my own video game, read books, and still take certain business classes if I could beat the waitlist. Still, the work was daunting. I had to read a lot, write numerous essays, and do ‘field experiments’ that were actually quite interesting to me. In the past two years, I have been exposed to some of the greatest social theory ever written, from utopian thinkers like Karl Marx to anti-utopian critics such as Hayek. Berkeley is rated #1 in the world in sociology on several lists, and I pride myself on the fact that I do have the best sociology degree anyone could ever hope to get.
I catch my flight home tomorrow. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned in the California school system that I think could be applied in Oklahoma. For starters, it’s the revelation that most successful school systems in California run themselves like a business. I know many OK systems pride themselves on their standards and not running like a business, but the scores of their students doesn’t seem to match up to the other schools that also have ‘standards’ but are run like an enterprise, especially the elite California ones. I know the concept of profit doesn’t really make sense in a public education system, but if you want to hire the best teachers, you’re going to need money that the state probably won’t give you that or let you use it for such a thing.
One thing I’m going to definitely pass on to my future children is the concept of a hobby. I know using the word concept is quite insulting, but I have met many young Californians in my time here and they tend to have hobbies like playing the piano, programming on their spare time (some are the sons of tech industry professionals), or create art. I know I’m probably suffering from some sort of confirmation bias here, but I really think many Oklahoma kids are boring because such hobbies are not cultivated. I was in the computer club in junior high, but I don’t recall one existing in high school (I don’t even think Westmoore had one, but correct me if wrong). There certainly was no art club that I can recall, although my junior-year English teacher did have a creative writing club that was kinda cool (thanks, Mr. Wilmarth!). In reality though, these things should be cultivated in elementary school for best effect, and I hope the Moore Public Schools takes steps to encourage such changes.
I’m going to be incorporating soon after I get home. I’m choosing to enter the games industry because I believe there is a game that should exist but does not exist, and I’m going to make it (with some help of course; I do have a co-founder). I believe my ability to find loopholes could be useful for market interpretation in the games industry. Specifically, hitting audiences that I believe are underserved. I’ve done a lot of shortcutting in the past in education, but I’m not going to do it for this. I talked to my mom the other day and she had ideas on how we could save money on taxes in our first year to minimize costs (she’s an accountant). I told her no – I’m going to do this right because it’s my company, regardless of the fact that we could probably pull off such tax evasion (my mom is a very good accountant). I’m going to create and revise a structure for my company that minimizes internal loopholes and weaknesses. I’ve still got a lot to learn (and read) about corporate structure and strategy, but I’m very excited to divulge in these subjects and practice them for the years to come. I’m going to be carving my own path in life and living the way I’ve always wanted – in a way that makes me happy. After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal in life? I plan on having no regrets.