DAHLGREN, Va. – Who knew that President John Adams could see so far into the 21st century?
Dr. Carson Eoyang – keynote speaker at a Navy Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month Observance – posed the question after reciting a quote by the second president of the United States.
“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy,” Adams wrote in a letter to his wife in 1780. “Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Eoyang – a Naval Postgraduate School Emeritus Professor who once served in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House – emphasized that education was the key to his family’s success after his father emigrated to the United States after World War II.
“The vision that President Adams had at the beginning of our country is the American dream our family has lived, and we are forever grateful that we live in the United States of America,” Eoyang told the military, government civilian, and contractor audience at the May 29 event sponsored by Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).
He recounted the progression of educational studies in his family’s history – remarkably similar to Adams’ vision for his family. “My father’s degrees were in engineering and mine are in business, while my eldest daughter graduated in American studies and law,” said Eoyang who holds degrees from MIT, Harvard and Stanford. “My son graduated in art, my youngest daughter graduated in architecture, and now she works at Airbnb.”
AAPI Heritage Month provides the Navy, and the nation, with the opportunity to honor the contributions that Asian American and Pacific Islanders have made to the country, reflect on the challenges that still face the AAPI community, and work to promote an environment that values inclusivity and pluralism. This year, the Navy celebrated and reflected on the theme "Unite Our Vision by Working Together," which emphasizes the importance of embracing diversity and promoting unity.
Eoyang recounted his father’s emigration to the United States after World War II and his contributions to the nation in spite of barriers to Chinese Americans at the time.
“We were able to come after the war and with his education, he was able to find a position but he had to reinvent himself from an expert in radio communications and taught himself about this brand new technology which was called computers,” said Eoyang. “This was in 1949 when most of the electronics used vacuum tubes and semiconductors were just being invented. But he was able to salvage his career in the computer field and work for a number of mainframe firms and be able to secure a livelihood so he could put all four of us through college.”
Eoyang’s father – born in China as the 20th century began – lived through two revolutions, two world wars, and the Great Depression.
“One of the things that he taught us about living through those really hard social upheaval times - the one portable, permanent asset that you can have is education,” said Eoyang. “In the 1930s, before he got married, he was lucky enough to win a fellowship to come to the United States for graduate school, and at that time China was sending a lot of their best and brightest to western universities to help modernize China by bringing back western intellectual capital. My father’s dissertation at the time was an economic analysis of a brand new industry at that time called the radio industry. When he went back to China after graduating, he started China’s first radio station.”
Eoyang, along with his sister and two brothers, attended New York public schools and went on to college, accumulating 11 university degrees between them. Along the way, he developed rules for success, that served him well in his academic and professional careers.
“Some of you may remember the 1990 bestselling book ‘All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten’ – it included lessons like share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, and clean up your own mess,” said Eoyang. “Those are pretty good rules to live by in kindergarten. Let me add 10 more that I learned from my parents and teachers. I’ve adapted them to help become successful in the workplace.
Rule #1 – Pay attention. Even the most boring meetings can be a learning experience if you analyze group dynamics beneath the formal discussion. For example, pay attention to who gets listened to and why they get attention or why they are listened to.
Rule #2 – Do your homework on time. Missing deadlines is a bad habit and often fatal to career advancement.
Rule #3 – Ask questions. It’s better to ask the naïve question than to avoid the one that didn’t get asked that could have prevented failure or catastrophe.
Rule #4 – Prepare yourself before tests. Every group meeting is a test of your ability and leadership. While you may not always be at the head of the class, don’t be last. Get ready to help make all of your meetings productive.
Rule #5 – Study with someone smarter than you. If you think you know it all, you’ve stopped learning. Smarter people not only help educate you, they also help you avoid intellectual arrogance, the trap door to ignorance.
Rule #6 – Think before answering. First thoughts are seductive, quick, simple, easy and many times superficial, incomplete, or irrelevant. Who is seen as more stupid – the one who admits “I don’t know” or the one who gives the wrong answer? To quote the great Chinese philosopher Charlie Chan: “Better to keep silent and have others think you're stupid than to open mouth and confirm same.”
Rule #7 – Answer the question that is asked. Consider the politician or celebrity who rambles on with a response totally unrelated to the original question. Does that person’s image or reputation go up or down? Sometimes the best answer is: “I don’t know but this is how to find out.”
Rule #8 – Double check answers before turning them in. Excellence is the result of careful attention to details and the avoidance of gross errors or omissions.
Rule #9 – Try for extra credit. If you want to stand out, go the extra mile.
Rule #10 – Never, never cheat. Remember – cheating is wrong and the consequences of getting caught can be severe. Just as important is that cheating erodes your character and reputation even when it works and you get away with it. Cheating teaches the wrong lesson.
“As I reflect on these rules, I realize that I not only try pass them on to my children but also instinctively try to apply them to my own professional work at the office,” said Eoyang, who served as chief training officer for the Federal Aviation Administration and as the director of training for NASA. “While my applications have been imperfect, by and large they work pretty well – outside the classroom as well.”
As the event concluded, NSWCDD Chief of Staff Chuck Campbell presented the command’s history book, ‘The Sound of Freedom,’ and Dahlgren’s centennial coin to Eoyang in appreciation of his keynote speech. “We enjoyed the century of your family’s history,” said Campbell. “This is a century of our history and accomplishments at Dahlgren.”
Naval Sea Systems Command benefits from a wealth of expertise from members of the AAPI community, Campbell pointed out in his welcoming remarks.
“Our future Navy must foster an inclusive culture that leverages the diverse backgrounds and talents of our entire workforce,” said Campbell, adding that ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives at NSWCDD and NAVSEA continue moving forward to meet this objective.
“Asian American and Pacific Islanders have helped shape our nation’s identity through shared determination, an honest living, and commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Campbell. “All of us must continue to learn more from each other as we serve a common purpose.”