After weeks of hard work, hours of meetings, and too many packets of instant coffee, we pulled it off – hosting the 2018 AAPI Youth Summit! Held yesterday at Google’s D.C. headquarters, this year’s gathering built on a tradition of connecting with young Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders.
Each year, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) invites AAPI students and interns to an event aimed to educate, connect, and inspire the next generation of AAPI leaders. This year’s theme, “Going for Gold,” highlighted trailblazer AAPIs across different industries and throughout the federal government.
To kick off the event, WHIAAPI’s Executive Director, Holly Ham, delivered opening remarks. She shared stories from her youth and discussed her inspiration to go for gold in both the private and public sectors. Holly encouraged participants to dream big and take a few risks. She then introduced Aerica Banks, chief operating officer of the Asian Google Network, who expressed her excitement for us being there and welcomed everyone to Google’s space.
The countless email chains and rounds of phone tag paid off for our first panel, “A Heart of Gold: Pathways to Public Service.” Moderated by Melissa Fwu from the White House Office of Public Liaison, the panel featured three accomplished federal employees from different facets of government. The panelists discussed their paths to a career in public service and shared their thoughts on why AAPI representation in the federal government is important. Jennifer Shieh, senior policy advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, discussed her shift from studying biomedicine to working on policy at the White House. Sujit Raman, associate deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice, shared advice for prospective lawyers in the audience. Larissa Knapp, the deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Directorate of Intelligence, demystified the FBI and explained how students can work in the intelligence community.
After this educational panel, we had some fun. In our “Race for Gold” session, participants were quizzed on their knowledge of pioneering AAPIs. Who was the first AAPI to serve in Congress? (The answer is Dalip Saund.) Why is Maya Lin so important? What AAPI subgroup was the first to arrive in North America? From history to pop culture to politics, our student leaders really knew their AAPI trivia. The top three contestants entered a sudden showdown, where they competed for a free house and eternal glory (actually, some Asian snacks).
After a short break, we dove into our “Going for Gold” panel. Panel moderator Bill Imada is the founder, chairman, and chief connectivity officer of IW Group, a communications agency that consults on the growing multicultural markets. Imada introduced the summit’s special guests and panelists. Short video clips built suspense, after which Thomas Hong and Domee Shi entered to thunderous applause.
Looking like your typical college kid, Thomas blended in with the summit attendees. The 21-year-old, however, is a world record-holder for short-track speed skating who competed for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Thomas talked about his AAPI identity and what it meant to him to return to his birth country of South Korea to represent Team USA. Domee began as an intern (just like us!) at Pixar and went on to become the first woman to direct a Pixar short. She directed and wrote “Bao,” (the short film playing before “Incredibles 2”), which features an adorable little dumpling that comes to life on the big screen. Raised in Toronto, Domee talked about the differences she sees between the Asian experience in Canada and in the United States. Bill deftly guided the conversation, our attendees loved hearing the panelists’ remarks and stories, and everyone left inspired. Along with our guests’ impressive accomplishments, we found them to be courteous and kind.
The summit concluded with a networking reception. Professionals from across the public sector joined us for hors d’oeuvres and candid conversations. Our attendees appreciated the opportunity to connect with federal employees, learn from their experiences, and meet role models and potential mentors.
We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to coordinate and execute this event, and we enjoyed working with everyone at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to make our vision into a reality. After this experience, we’re all ready to go for gold.
Sai-Kit Jeremy Lee, Maureen (Maki) O’Bryan and Andrew Teoh are interns at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.