One of our speakers this week, Smita Satiani, shared a story about her grandfather raising his three sons in Pakistan. He told the boys, “One of you will be a doctor, one of you will be an engineer, and one of you will take over the farm.”
At the time we laughed. Yet even growing up in America, we can all remember facing these same expectations at one time or another. However, we are not bound by the stereotypes of our ethnicity. In this spirit, the WLP Class of 2015 launched the #SouthAsianAnd campaign at the beginning of the summer. We are inviting members of our community to tweet @SouthAsianAnd and reflect on the multiple dimensions of their identities.
We kicked off this week meeting #SouthAsianAnd federal circuit judge Sri Srinivasan. He described the hallmark of a good judge: someone who is not blinded by personal convictions or one-sided empathy but puts himself in the shoes of every competing party. True to his word, Judge Sri saw the virtues in lawyering for both a private firm and the government: in the public sector, you receive more responsibility earlier on and in the private sector, you learn how to prioritize your responsibilities given an intensive workload. Perhaps the most surprising fact we learned, however, was the array of careers Judge Sri would enjoy pursuing besides law from playing NBA basketball to running a daycare center -- the possibilities are limitless.
On Wednesday, we braved the stormy skies and White House security lines to chat with Smita Satiani and Maya Uppaluru, two leaders in government innovation. Both shared many opinions -- the value of work experience before grad school, computer science and coding skills, and relationships that enrich both personal and professional life (they are BFFs!). Smita, the engagement director for the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program, advised us to not discount the culture of our workplace in our job searches. Maya, a lawyer and policy advisor on health IT for the White House, noted that increasing numbers of talented private sector employees are joining the government because of the opportunity to make a large-scale impact. Both agreed that it is most rewarding to work with colleagues who contribute a diversity of thoughts but share the same vision.
The next day we met Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and his chief of staff Parag Mehta. Dr. Murthy immediately resonated with us as he recounted his parents’ emigration from Mandya to Miami and how they forged opportunities through persistence and goodwill. Dr. Murthy imparted simple yet significant insights. “Do the thing that keeps you up at night,” he implored us as he traced the various decisions he’d made from founding nonprofits to attending both medical and business school before entering public service. “One good reason to do something is enough,” he said, “since our gut instincts manifest moments of self-definition.”
As he spoke, we thought about our parents who had kept the same jobs for years or sometimes decades at a time -- a job stability that is no longer a guarantee for us. Dr. Murthy’s words inspired us to not settle for expected career paths, but to abide by our own high standards.
With many lessons to mull over, we said goodbye to Dr. Murthy but not to Parag, who led us through the Beyond Bollywood exhibit at the Museum of Natural History on Saturday. Alongside his partner Vaibhav Jain, Parag expounded on the history of Indians in America and the intricacies of the stories and artifacts on display. We admired how much our community has achieved but also saw many windows of opportunity that are left for our generation to open.
It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through our WLP experience. The past month has been eye-opening in several ways. Our knowledge of the American government and the Capitol has expanded; our confidence in building relationships with future leaders and mentors has solidified; and our explorations of DC have motivated us to work towards a better future. Today, we are all South Asian and WLP scholars, but we’re excited to see the many ways our class will fill in that blank in the future.
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
University of Georgia
Dept of Health and Human Services