Be open to others' stories

Shoun '17 Landon School blog post

The following blog post is a transcript of the remarks Shoun '17 delivered to Middle and Upper School students and faculty at the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly. An international student from China, Shoun shares why he believes it is important to recognize and celebrate cultural differences, take advantage of opportunities provided to us, and seek to create opportunities for future generations.

I am here to share the story of my family and the cultural context I grew up in, hoping that the story can help you understand what I, and many others like me, believe in.

My grandparents grew up in post-war China. Due to a lack of economic resources and educational opportunities, they could not read or write. The sole exception is my maternal grandfather who only finished third grade after learning how to read numbers and basic characters. Illiteracy condemned them to years of poverty and hard labor on a farm or a one-man fishing boat, depending on which side of the family we are talking about.

That's where my family values come in: Economic distress caused my grandparents to realize that their children needed a better education so they could avoid the same fate, and I think Asian parents' emphasis on education might more or less relate to the socioeconomic turmoil the continent has experienced throughout history.

Believing that education could change his life as he was growing up, my father used to get up at 4 in the morning to feed the pigs in the backyard and walk a few miles through the woods to go to school. In the end, he was gifted enough to attend a college and live a life with dignity.

His lesson to me is best captured in a fable he told me once. Now before I start this fable, I want to clarify that the story actually comes from the Talmud, a Jewish text since my father is a big fan of the Jewish culture, but I believe the fable itself does a great job representing the importance of education in my family tradition.

So here it goes: An older eagle, along with three children, was crossing the river. The younger eagles were not old enough to cross the river by themselves so the older eagle had to carry them across, one at a time. Halfway through the journey, the older eagle asked the younger eagle, "What would you do when you grow up?" "I would be kind to you," answered the young eagle. The older eagle was disappointed and dropped his child, who drowned within seconds. The second eagle gave the same response and drowned as well. When it was the third eagle's turn, it answered, "I will treat my children with kindness, just like what you did to me." The older eagle was happy with the response and reared the younger eagle to adulthood. The moral of the story is not that one should abandon his or her parents, but rather it's about providing resources to the next generation so that each generation has something to pass on to the next. To me, it's manifested in my family's decision to support me to go to Landon and benefit from the top-notch education offered here.

There's a certain stereotype of Asians getting good grades and being good at math. I happen to fit in both categories. While I have no intention of dismissing the stereotype as false, I do hope you can empathize with my family values, which motivate me to work hard. I also hope my experience can make you appreciate Landon's costly education, because not everyone has the opportunity to even attend school, let alone a private institution.

I want to spend the rest of my speech talking about the transition to Landon. A great part of my cultural literacy learning, to borrow the phrase from [teacher-coach-mentor] Mr. Sean Foley, has been race awareness. After all, China is largely non-racialized and homogeneous. To prove this point one only needs to take a look at China's flag. All the stars are yellow.

So, it took me a while to be able to pick up on assumptions made based on my race but also to become aware of other people's racial background. To that, I don't have a particular story to share since most of the time people around me do not mean any harm when they make assumptions. But rather I am simply grateful for the open opportunities Landon has offered, and my advice to you is to have patience to hear what stories others will want to share with you... and be kind.

At Landon, Shoun is editor of the student newspaper The Landon News, an actor, a member of the wrestling and cross country teams, and the recipient of the 2016 Johns Hopkins Book Award, given annually to the junior who best exhibits strong character and scholarship.