“What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?”
by Rebecca Chernick on Friday, May 17th, 2013Erick Tseng (‘97), this year’s Hong Kong Speaker, spoke to Classes II and III in King Theater on Wednesday, May 8. The Hong Kong Bicentennial Committee established the Hong Kong Distinguished Speaker Series Fund in 1998 to educate the Milton community about Asia and discusses topics concerning Asian cultures.
Mr. Tseng graduated from Milton in 1997 and received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT, as well as an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Since graduate school, he has worked for Microsoft, Yahoo, and MIT Media Lab, and was a senior project leader on Google’s Android team. In 2010, Mr. Tseng joined Facebook, where he is currently head of mobile products. When asked about his visit to Milton, Mr. Tseng said, “I love coming back to campus. Having the privilege to talk was a big honor.” Mr. Tseng was the first trustee, though not the first Milton alumnus, to speak as the Hong Kong Distinguished Speaker.
Ms. WuWong, History Department Chair and faculty advisor to Asian Society, said, “This [year’s Hong Kong Speaker] is particularly significant because Erick Tseng is a graduate of Milton Academy. He was active in Asian Society, serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Asian. It makes me very proud. He is a current trustee, and I had him as a student. He was a key member of the Asian student community.”
When Tseng was a student at Milton, explained Ms. WuWong, Asian students were not very involved in activities outside of Asian Society. Erick, however, joined a range of activities, participated in theatre productions, and captained the Speech Team. English teacher and Speech Team coach Ms. Simon, said that Tseng was instrumental in the school presentation of Fiddler on the Roof, describing him as someone who was “always right where you need him” and an incredibly memorable speech captain due to his outstanding leadership.
When he came back to Milton last week to speak, Tseng opened by presenting himself as “a living, breathing stereotype,” a member of the “model minority” who did extra math homework as a child and learned to play the violin and the piano. He then challenged these stereotypes, saying that Asian Americans “do not want to be pigeon-holed,” and confronted Milton students with the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Tseng drew parallels from his own life to expand on the question. After developing the “world’s best smartphone” with Android, Tseng had to choose whether to “ride the Android rocket ship, or take a leap of faith and start a new company.” While making the decision, he received a call from his present employer, Facebook. After deciding that “Zuck [Mark Zuckerberg] was down to earth and extremely smart,” Tseng took the enormous risk of abandoning both Google and his own start-up, deciding to join Facebook instead.
Tseng elicited an overwhelmingly positive response from students. Santiago Vivar (III) says, “He was great—he was speaking on a topic that a lot of people could relate to. He was well-spoken and incorporated humor into the speech.” Santiago added, “I liked that [Tseng] involved students in the presentation.”
Ariela Buxbaum-Grice (III) also enjoyed Erick Tseng’s speech, but for different reasons. “I thought it was very interesting that he talked about racial stereotypes, because he has a very important job—he could have talked about that instead. His speech was very relatable and applied to Milton students.” Yemi Olorunwunmi (II) says, “I liked him. It was probably one of the best speeches I’ve heard at Milton.”
Having Erick Tseng back at Milton was an honor. The Milton community wholly embraced him and his message of accepting failure as a natural process of growth. His contributions to the school, both in his time as a student and as a trustee and speaker, have motivated the school to truly pursue its motto, Dare to be True.
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