The Little Prince and my Southwestern Experience.
I recently attended a gathering of Donors and Special Guests of President Burger for the opening of the new Science wing at Southwestern University, my alma mater. At this point in my Texas trip, I was a bit delirious from performing in drag the night before and arriving on a red eye flight the day before my drag show. But I was intrigued by President Burger’s presentation and his story of how he challenged his students, first years, to write an essay with the same title as this post. I thought to myself, I should totally do that! So here goes!
Like the aviator who crashes lands in the desert, I had bounced from one state to another my entire childhood, finally landing in TX with an intense desire to come out of my shell and figure out my life already. The shell I came out of, of course, was one of my own making — at a mere 5'9", I was almost 300 lbs. I was also closeted, lonely, and a bunch of other adjectives that describe the awful teenage life of a chubby Asian-American growing up in suburbia, namely, high-performing, intense, perfection-driven, wildly ambitious, highly self-critical, and tired. I was very tired of not having friends, not feeling comfortable in my own skin, and I largely selected to go to Southwestern because I heard the academics were solid, but the grass of the Academic Mall and the small town atmosphere just put this city boy at ease. Tranquil. Quiet. Small.
I arrived at Southwestern much like the aviator did, a bit lost, in need of self-repair. The Little Prince that asked me to draw a sheep, in my experience, was the child-like innocence of my educational program, designed in impeccable detail on day 1 but laboriously edited based on class availability. I drew a sheep by enrolling in music theory classes alongside my programming and math classes, learning to master the building blocks of music while simultaneously learning code. The grownup in me wanted to learn computer programming to do something feasible and reasonable with life after college, much like the lamplighter encountered by the Little Prince. I’m so glad that something deep down within told me to be a music major. Later, Dr. Barbara Owens, a Computer Science faculty member who made time to attend my concerts, would tell me after my senior recital, “Michael, music will be the undercurrent of your life!” She also remarked that I didn’t really seem to have the passion to be a code monkey, and she was right.
After college, I felt a bit lost and adventurous at the same time. I felt a yearning after my time at Southwestern to continue building and honing skills that I hadn’t yet mastered — something I wasn’t getting working in the IT industry in San Diego. That something was a knowledge of how government organizes people to effect change and regulate society by creating the rule of Law.
Entering law school, I was quite intimidated by the course load and the reading and the public speaking and the competitiveness of it to boot. Computer scientists just didn’t read that much, and they rarely talked. But I treated my time with case studies like practicing for my saxophone recital — forcing myself to read page after painstaking page until the act of reading antiquated language felt as normal as playing a G major scale. The brute force method of reading and outlining cases worked, and I transferred to a top tier law school the following year.
I spent my first legal summer working with minors counsel in Los Angeles, advocating on their behalf to the Court to prevent children from crossing over from Dependency (Foster Care) jurisdiction to Juvenile Delinquency. Thus was not my first time working on behalf of children. While at Southwestern, I interned at The Georgetown Project and helped create a partnership between Southwestern and the nonprofit aimed at building community for at-risk youth. Children deserve an equal playing field, regardless of the circumstances they were born into.
My advocacy for children started at Southwestern as an Operation Achievement mentor, helping out local kids with their homework. I always loved math and the joy of solving puzzles, or problem sets. I also really enjoyed teaching kids because they always asked simple questions, much like The Little Prince asked of the aviator.
My remaining time in law school was consumed with grownup stuff, including numbers. In an effort to escape the monotony of legal thought, one of my favorite Paideia moments, a term coined at President Burger’s Inauguration Address that describes the Southwestern experience, occurred while choosing my Law Review Note topic. I decided that I would try to bring my knowledge of an Artificial Intelligence concept called fuzzy logic into some application of a rule of law. I picked patent law because it was fascinating to me that lay jurors were asked to decide on the fact finding mission of infringement of a patent. The job of patent litigators is to craft their storyline as the big bad evil trampled / accused infringer totally crossing into the patent holder’s clearly demarcated property rights. The jury’s job was just to decide whether the line was crossed. However, as any patent attorney will tell you, the line is not that bright and is probably a little fuzzy. I wrote my law review note to suggest that a new verdict form be used to capture each individual juror’s uncertainty (the fuzziness of it all) in deciding whether an accused infringer crossed the line. Then, an iterative process (building a record of evidence reserved for appeal) may be used in jury deliberations. At the end, the verdict is defuzzified based on a final recording of each juror’s vote.
Anywho, the Note got published in the Hastings Law Journal and it won me a nice little prize in a writing competition. To this day, I am still quite proud of that Note, but I’m unsure if I would have thought to apply that fuzzy logic to patent infringement cases had I gone to college somewhere else. The whole notion of borrowing one idea and applying it to a different area is prevalent in music theory, specifically Jazz Improv. You can play “Mary had a little lamb” while riffing a solo in a bebop tune and no one would blink. So my mode of thinking, as a jazz player, really helped me to creatively apply that fuzzy concept to doctrine of equivalents analysis. Cool Daddy-O, cool!
The whole notion of borrowing one idea and applying it to a different area is prevalent in music theory, specifically Jazz Improv.
So now, in this election year, I feel I must dig deep and reflect on what the journey means for me. I’m learning to see with my heart what cannot be seen with my eyes, as the fox teaches us, and I am understanding that the rose in my life, thus far, has been my volunteerism and countless hours spent fundraising and advocating for various causes. It is the time spent on my rose that makes it so important. For me, that’s the passions and causes that I choose to support and spend my time on. It is becoming clear to me that I have an endless amount of energy when I am fully committed to a cause and to a community.
The common threads include:
- Starting on a new endeavor,
- Taking a leadership role in that new endeavor, and
- Building partnerships and connections where none existed before.
My journey is not over yet, but I have learned from the absolute monarch in the story — I can only ask / command my subjects to do what is reasonable. If they fail to perform the command, then it is my fault for asking something so unreasonable. As Miss GAPA, I am now confronted with this amazing platform to create change in our world. I feel empowered to do it, and that’s a new feeling. This may lead to new and exciting endeavors, and I know that my journey does not end here. Rather, it is just another point through which I will one day trace back my steps to see how the future all unfurled.