Archive for May, 2008

Summer’s Start

May 31, 2008 - 9:43 pm 1 Comment

Last week, I stayed on Penn’s campus to tie up some loose ends and to help a Professor in the Finance and the Real Estate departments work on assorted projects. Due to scheduling issues, I found myself waiting around aimlessly for quite a substantial amount of time. Thankfully, YouthBank and Givology work always abounds, especially since we’re launching Givology’s site and the YouthBank photography studio this summer. Many of my Givology team members are in China, helping set up contacts and establishing partnerships in person. Overall, I am incredibly pleased with our team – I’ve never seen a more committed, connected, and visionary group of people. Lately, I’ve had many dreams about China – I truly want to visit Beijing and Shanghai someday. I had a chance to visit some of my professors and mentors, as well as go to Swarthmore with my Wharton Research Scholars faculty advisor to meet a colleague of his who collaborates with Oxford’s Center for the Study of African Economies.

On Friday, I returned home to see a Nationals vs. Brewers baseball game – my first baseball game ever. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the experience much more than I had expected (my expectations were rather model as the game is 1000x slower than ice hockey, my sport of preference)! Together, my family and I cheered on the home team, saw a home run hit by Peña, and witnessed an inning in which four points were scored by the Nationals.

Spending time at home is always a joy. I play games with my little sister, eat delicious food prepared by my mother, and spend time bantering with my father. On Saturday, we all woke up very early to see the opening of Indiana Jones – a movie that certainly did not disappoint in terms of action. With the addition of Shia LeBeouf (is that how you spell his name?), the movie became more youthful and comedic. Somehow, it made me sad to see Harrison Ford appear so old – when I see him in such a state, I worry about my own parents. (But my parents look much younger than Ford!) Afterwards, we completed the Grace and Dad ritual by going to our favorite Afghan restaurant and eating delicious lamb and chicken kabobs. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, we then went to the Viva Vienna festival, where dad visually consumed all the foods. We then shared frozen custard at the neighborhood ice cream store, owned and operated by a Mormon family.

Vienna somehow retains a dual identity as a cosmopolitan center but with a homey, small-town feel. On Sunday, we went to the Viva Vienna festival again to peruse the arts and crafts, as well as to eat smoked Turkey legs (my father’s ritual). I enjoyed the experience thoroughly – the entire area teemed with food stands, carnival rides, artisan craft stands, and commercial & non-profit advocacy tents. Even though I was already stuffed on the Turkey leg, we went to eat lunch at Serenity – a Chinese “small eats” restaurant that my parents have incessantly praised. Serving Northern Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine – the two locales of my heritage – I really liked the restaurant. Afterwards, we all went shopping at the Chinese supermarket, where only the slightest suggestion compelled my mother to buy me my favorite vegetables and meats.

Memorial Day passed happily with my father’s hamburgers (an American dish he has fully mastered in theory, but continues to scorch the hamburgers excessively because of his impatience to eat them) and corn on the cob. I spent a lazy day playing with my little sister and lounging around the house – the joy of indolence! We went to Blockbuster and bought a few movies. After a delicious dinner prepared by my mother, we all watched Bourne Ultimatum together – a movie that kept me on my toes the entire time.

Tuesday and Wednesday…well, I’ve been running around Washington D.C with the Professor I’m currently a research assistant for. From attending various conferences to sitting in on industry/academic discussions and brainstorming sessions, I’ve visited the headquarters of the Development Innovations Group (recipient of Gates Foundation financing) and ate breakfast at the Cosmos Club, among many other activities. In fact, I’m typing this xanga entry up at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City, where a conference is held on the implications of the current sub-prime crisis. I’ve helped this Professor prepare her presentation slides for the various talks she is scheduled to give. This job, however, still requires a lot of idle time and waiting around.

The fact that I’m no longer a Penn student still has not fully sunk in. Somehow, my brain still expects me to return to campus in the fall to continue my studies. Instead of being available, my classmates are now permanently spread out across the globe (highest concentration in New York City). Meanwhile, I’ll be half a world away. I’m not particularly sad or nostalgic – rather, I’m excited by all the new impending adventures and opportunities.

This summer, I have two more internships to look forward to. If you are in Boston or Washington DC the same time I am, please contact me!

Graduation Does Not Mean Good-Bye

May 21, 2008 - 9:54 am 3 Comments

After four graduation ceremonies, I admit that I am somewhat “graduated” out, but leave with a strong sense of satisfaction and closure. On Friday, I attended the Undergraduate Awards Ceremony, where I received verbal commendation for the Rhodes Scholarship and made a speech about my academic experience at Penn. My little sister caught my speech on tape, but alas, the podium dwarfed me in size, so I believe only my eyebrows are visible. Then, I attended the Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony. Learning about the history of Phi Beta Kappa was really interesting – I did not know that the organization started at William and Mary – a college of my native Virginia.

On Saturday, I went to the Ivy Day Celebration, where I received the “James Howard Weiss Memorial Award” for academic excellence from President Gutman. Some of the senior awards were rather interesting – for example, I learned that the spoon award was originally given by the sophomore class to the freshman with the lowest GPA, but now it is a senior award! They had alumni of the 1983 class who won the awards during their time at Penn present the awards to the current class. Afterwards, the winner of the spade award planted the ivy for the class of 2008.

On Sunday, I went to the Wharton Graduation Ceremony. The entire ceremony was managed incredibly efficiently (no surprise given that it is Wharton…) – I enjoyed the funny remarks of the accounting and actuary science professors who received teaching awards. I had no idea, however, that teaching awards were somewhat of a double-edged sword. On Thursday, I was invited to speak at a high school approximately 1.5 hours out of Philadelphia. Mr. Miltenberger – a staff member of the Alumni office who drove me to the school – told me that receiving a teaching award was a “kiss of death” because it showed that the faculty member spent too much time on teaching, rather than on research. In my opinion, to create a strong and appealing university, untenured faculty should receive some form of additional consideration if they win a teaching award, rather than be penalized! At the Wharton graduation, I evidently won a “Delta Sigma Pi” scholarship key – frankly, this award was news to me. Later, I was notified that the screen that displayed my name as I walked across the stage read “Joyce Meng – Vienna, Austria”. As you all know, I’m from Vienna, Virginia. I shook the hand of Professor Souleles and saw Professor Dunfee on stage – two of my fondest mentors at Penn.

Afterwards, we went to the Huntsman graduation ceremony – an elaborate and personal affair. Governor Huntsman of Utah spoke on behalf of his father – the main benefactor of our program. His speech was quite inspiring, calling on our generation to right many of the ills of our current world. I found the overall speech highly eloquent, persuasive, and relevant. Afterwards, our executive program director – Inge – spent a few minutes describing the accomplishments of each student. We shook the hands of our two faculty directors – Professor Donaldson-Evans and Professor Bellace – and then posed for photos. I ended up winning the Director’s Award for Academic Excellence, and received a copy of Jeffrey Sach’s most recent book. In these past few years, the Huntsman community has meant so much to me – the event was in many ways very touching and nostalgic. Afterwards, we headed back to the program office for some international food, cheese, and drink (though my father went too far on the latter).

During this time, the rain had intensified substantially. At first, I was not quite sure whether I wanted to attend the graduation ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences, but then I decided to go, even if it meant potentially getting wet and sitting through a name of call of over 1,700 students. At first, the weather was miserable, but miraculously, everything cleared up by the time we left the building to march onto the field. I lined up with all my fellow Huntsman students and marched in. The faculty procession always fascinates me – all my professors decked out in antiquated clothing, anachronistic, yes, but at the same time, regal and elegant. The speaker was film producer Marc Platt – a Penn alumni who produced movies such as Silence of the Lambs, Jerry McGuire, Philadelphia, Legally Blond, and the Broadway Production of Wicked. I really enjoyed his speech – he spoke about the importance of doing things from the heart. The field got rather cold at the end – I nearly froze to death, a result of falling temperatures, wet feet, and the necessity of wearing a skirt.

The next morning, I awoke early for Commencement. We paraded from Hamilton Village to Franklin Field, where our professors and mentors, clad in their robes, cheered for us. I saw Dr. Joseph from CURF, Dr. Asher from JWS and WRS, and Inge, along with Dean Bushnell, Dean Deturk, and President Gutman. The experience in many ways was rather overwhelming – a good feeling bursting from within. At the end of the parade, we walked past all the alumni, standing below the flags of their respective class. The oldest class in attendance was the class of 1939. When we finally got onto the field, I enjoyed watching the process of faculty and alumni. I saw many of the old guard refuse to sit in their wheelchairs, choosing to parade into the field standing and bearing the flag of their class. Our commencement speaker was Mayor Bloomberg – at first, I was not sure if I was very excited about the speaker, but ended up really enjoying his message. As a progressive independent, he spoke about the importance of generating political change through maintaining independence (standing up to the NRA), promoting immigration, and standing up for facts (stem cell research). Although his message was very anti-Washington, it called for substantial change and important individuals play in not allowing the perpetuation of the status quo. Commencement was an overwhelming experience in many ways – I truly enjoyed the speeches and the rituals. I now see why Edmund Burke wrote about the supreme importance of ritual in public affairs.

That afternoon, we all went to lunch with Lingling’s family at a local Korean restaurant – we had a fun time chatting about life over a bowl of Bibim Bap. That night, my family went to dinner with Lauren Zarzar’s family – a déjà vu in some sense to our high school graduation. We went to Alma de Cuba, where we enjoyed the finest Cuban cuisine. I ate Chilean sea bass, along with exquisite Ceviche and octopus and various deserts. My parents gave me a Globe, inscribed with a statement about the search for social justice. We gave Lauren a personalized gift, along with a Wii!

Four years, four wonderful years at Penn. I could not have asked for more. From studying abroad in Madrid and investigating microfinance in rural Mexico to doing investment banking internships in Taipei, Hong Kong, and Wall Street, the world has opened up for me. I am terribly nostalgic already for what I will leave behind, but am satisfied knowing that the Penn community and my faculty mentors will always be here, whenever I choose to return to Philadelphia. I will miss my debate team and our regular YouthBank and Givology meetings, but I know I can stay in touch with everyone.

Thank you to my dearest family and Adam for cheering me on at all of these events!

The Beginning of Good-Byes

May 3, 2008 - 6:16 pm 1 Comment

Tonight was the Huntsman Graduation Banquet. The sense of nostalgia was almost overwhelming when we took our senior class picture the same way we took our freshman picture. Everyone was dressed so nicely for this gathering of friends, faculty, and Huntsman advisory board. How did my four years escape me so quickly? It is almost surreal for me to realize that my college years are winding down to the last two weeks. Between finals and papers, however, I sadly don’t have the full latitude to relax and ruminate until the 12th of May.

Alas, Finals

May 1, 2008 - 2:56 pm No Comments

As Tuesday marked the last day of classes for me at Penn, I must quote a poem my father wrote. Now that graduation is only two weeks away, I’m beginning to feel a small sentiment of nostalgia. How did four years escape me so quickly? But when I think about the experiences and adventures I accumulated, four years suddenly seems like a long time. I ended my Penn academic career in a writing seminar (dominated by freshman) on graphic novels. How fitting…

[Poem by my father]
last day of her Penn classes,
last day in Penn as a care-free student,
last day of youth with no social responsibility,
last day of sheltered life within Ivy leaves,
last day of medley of parties, classes, clubs.
There comes the serious, responsible and cut-throat competitive and
mud-sling adult life!!

Oh, no, not for yoda,
not for yoda’s kids :-).
Life continues as a enjoyable pursuit,
Classroom continues everywhere and every moment,
Stimulating and care-free learning continues to even higher plane of reality,
Oh, no, oh, no.
No adult seriousness with suffocating dullness,
No unchecked greed and unfulfilled adolescent complexes,
Pursue higher ideals and knowledge to make more enjoyment for all.
Throw in a Herodotus, a Plato and top with Geometric Algebra,
Life IS good……nothing cannot be cured :-).

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Alas, I have limited time for rumination as I have four finals and a thesis to complete. If you are interested in reading the first draft of my thesis, please e-mail me – I am eager for more readers.