Geeking it Out

On a recent college visit to Lehigh University with my daughter I got very excited when  I saw The Bent of Tau Beta Pi in front of the engineering building. What you ask is the Tau Beta Pi Bent? It is the symbol of the National Engineering Honor Society of which I was a member in college. My daughter recognizing my nerdy excitement made me pose next to the bent and took my picture. I must admit that although I am no longer a practicing engineer, my inner geek is alive and well and I continue to be very proud of my past life as an engineer.IMG_0456_newI did further research and found out that Tau Beta Pi is the oldest honor society in the United States and the second oldest collegiate honor society in America. Tau Beta Pi was  was founded in Lehigh University. When the academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, chose to restrict its membership to just liberal arts students, the head of the mining department at Lehigh University decided to start an honor society for the technical subject students. The first student to join Tau Beta Pi was the valedictorian of 1885. The Tau Beta Pi Bent symbol was designed to look like a watch key, like the ones used to wind old watches. It is in the shape of a bent of a trestle as seen in bridge construction. The colors of Tau Beta Pi are seal brown and white just like the Lehigh school colors.

 

bentflat_drgn

 

For further information about Tau Beta Pi visit https://www.tbp.org/home.cfm

 

 

Advertisements

Rediscovering a Friend

In life we meet many people that we like to refer to as “friends”, but the truth is that often we don’t take the time to really get to know them. This happened to me with an old colleague from business school. We were two of approximately 171 women in a graduating class of 780. Although we were “friends” we were more like comrades sharing an experience, supportive of each other yet not close enough to fully understand each other’s personal story. After graduation we both went our separate ways and lost contact. After 24 years I would have the opportunity to reconnect with Vera. She had just published a book and shared the information with some of her classmates. So, this summer I read her book and rediscovered an old friend in the process. After completing the book I knew I had to speak to Vera to fully understand the inspiration behind her novel, The Lonely American. Though it was written as fiction, I suspected there was much of Vera herself interwoven in the story, and it sparked a desire, almost a need to learn more. I spent three hours with Vera on the phone, not only catching up on life, but also delving into the historical period of her book from her perspective.

The Lonely American by Vera Lam

The Lonely American by Vera Lam

Vera was born and raised in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. So naturally she chose to write a book inspired by her personal experiences with the Vietnam War, a time period that is of particular interest to me. To clarify, in Vietnam, “The Vietnam War” is referred to as “The American War”. Like many, I grew up in the 1960’s with current events of the Vietnam War playing out in television news and the papers yet I understood very little of it. Reading about the war in Stanley Karnow’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Vietnam: A History, was an eye opener. It helped me understand the context, the players, and the actions of a war. When Vera told us about her new book, I was delighted to hear the news, and at the same time intrigued by the subject. The Lonely American delineates the life of an American pilot and his kindred connections to Vietnam. After serving two tours of duty, he returns to the US as a fully decorated officer. He marries his pre-war American sweetheart and has a son. However, he never forgets a woman he had met during his Vietnam years. Years later, as his treacherous life has driven him to complete solitude, he rediscovers his special love and connections to Vietnam. I don’t want to give the story away but suffice to say that it is a story that could have and may have happened to many. The characters personify the true historical experiences that so many have lived.

I wanted to dig deeper and asked Vera about her own personal story. As we spoke on the phone, I listened intently and scribbled pages and pages of notes. Listening to Vera’s story was like reading a novel. I appreciated her openness. Although she was happy for me to share her story I have respected her request to omit some of the events due to their delicate nature. After listening to Vera’s life experience I have a newfound respect and admiration for her.

The United States supported South Vietnam in their fight against communist North Vietnam. In January of 1973 all parties finally agreed to a cease-fire. The United States pulled its troops out leaving South Vietnam to deal with its fate. Many South Vietnamese refugees chose to leave their country when the US left. But leaving the country would become increasingly difficult especially if you did not have money or connections. Soon after, North Vietnam broke the cease-fire and resumed fighting, continuing its push to the south. South Vietnam, with no military aid from the US, was forced to surrender in 1975. In 1976, the country was officially united and called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This caused another exodus of South Vietnamese who chose to leave rather than live under communist regime.

So while I navigated the dramas of middle school and high school, watched The Six Million Dollar Man on television, and listened to Simon & Garfunkel on the radio, Vera was figuring out ways to leave Saigon in 1975. Since her father had been an ‘under cover special agent’ in South Vietnam for the Republic of China for more than two decades, he was blacklisted by the North Vietnamese. Though he had narrowly escaped by boat to the neighboring country of Thailand, Vera’s mother and her siblings were left behind. They were subsequently placed under house arrest for several months. In time, Vera obtained a pass that allowed her to leave communist Vietnam and move to Paris. After having lived through the aftermath of the war and all of its insecurities, Vera understood the importance and need for establishing “security” in her life. She decided it was time to go to America to study engineering. She believed education was the equalizer in society. In 1979, with her unstoppable resolve, Vera moved to LA and began her studies in a community college. In 1981, Vera’s family finally joined her in the United States. She would go on to win a full scholarship to the University of Southern California where she earned a degree in computer engineering in 1984. After graduating from USC, Vera started working for AT&T Bell Laboratories. Soon after, Vera’s path would cross with mine. She and I met in Boston at Harvard Business School in 1988. After graduating from HBS, she would go on to have a very successful career in business. And lucky for us that she would get inspired to write “The Lonely American”.

In writing her book, Vera wanted to express the “things” that are important to her. She wanted to remind people of the horrors of war because as she says, “we have such short memories”. In June of 2014 the UN Refugee Agency reported that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide due to conflicts exceeded 50 million people for the first time since the end of World War II. Pulling a direct quote from her book, “Bullets have no eyes”, Vera wanted to remind us that many of the victims of war are the innocent bystanders. She iterated the importance of our understanding foreign policy because it will undoubtedly impact us one way or another. Towards the end of our telephone conversation, Vera mentioned that she had bore grudges against her own family members, but later recognized the power of forgiving.

I am very impassioned with the topic of mentoring others and serving as a role model. My “rediscovered” friend is a true inspiration for the next generation. She is an inspiration, not just for young women, but also for all young people around the world living in conflict. Vera’s determination proves to us once again that we are the ones that make the choices in our lives that can alter our destiny in a positive way.

I invite you to read “The Lonely American” by Vera Lam, my friend. http://www.amazon.com/The-Lonely-American-Vera-Lam/dp/9573909111/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1410626853&sr=8-2&keywords=the+lonely+american

The UN Refugee Agency Report June 2014 http://www.unhcr.org/53a155bc6.html

For historical background read Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam A History http://www.amazon.com/Vietnam-History-Stanley-Karnow/dp/0140265473/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415295380&sr=8-1&keywords=stanley+karnows

Happy Mother’s Day

To all the women who have raised or help raise children, be they biological mothers or stepmothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, or godmothers, my glass is lifted in a toast, to you unbelievable women who have been part of molding the next generation. May I remind you that no one ever gave us a manual on how to raise children. May I remind you that society does not place much value on raising kids or gives out awards for parenting. May I remind you of all the women out there that are raising our future leaders of the world on their own, our amazing single moms. May I remind you of all the moms that hold down full-time jobs and sometimes even multiple jobs and still have the patience and love to raise a small human being.

Allow me this moment of saluting you amazing mothers of the world, because sometimes I feel that parenting has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, harder than engineering school, a Harvard MBA, and rocket science. I have to admire those women who make parenting look so effortless. Some of you have hosted babies in your bodies, sometimes for nine months, and others for just a few heartbreaking days. Some of you have struggled with infertility and its emotional roller coaster. Some of you have been entrusted with suddenly caring for a child. We have had to care for, bath, feed, change this baby, and later teach this child the difference between right and wrong. May I praise the mothers who have children with special needs. I was left speechless, when one day at the supermarket I observed a mother with a cerebral palsy child in a huge wheel chair contraption, while she calmly picked her tomatoes in the vegetable aisle and included her child in her conversation. These women find the courage and strength to handle all kinds of challenging situations. Then there is all the worrying. Let’s not forget the nights you stayed up with a feverish child, or the nights you stayed up waiting for your teen to get home. And then there’s the moment when your “pollito”, little chick, must leave its nest. You have completed your mission to a degree and now you can only place your trust in them and send them on their way. You think the worrying ends when they get older and become adults but it seems that it never ends. There are those other difficult moments when nothing you say or do can fix the problem, no amount of holding or supporting can change destiny’s course and only guilt and helplessness consume you. You may not know it but you teach the rest of us so much about endurance, perseverance, and understanding.

I cannot deny the joy of the moment when your child laughs uncontrollably when you tickle them or when they give you a big kiss. These are the happy thoughts that sustain you through your child’s colicky nights or the moments when your annoying teen thinks they know more than you do. There are those amazing moments when a stranger admires your child’s manners or compliments their kindness or performance. You sigh and think to yourself that perhaps you are doing something right after all. Then there are those moments when you feel you are of some great use, when your child’s head wound is bursting with blood, and only your hugs and kisses, can make it feel better or when your child asks you for help in math homework and you can actually be of help.

I would not be the mother I am today if it were not for my role models. Among them, my own mother who deserves the title of saint, a mother who has always had patience and love to guide me through life, a mother who has been unselfish and giving in every aspect imaginable.  She is a mother who always has a solution, who always says, “yes, we can do this”, who is always ready to take on a task.  She is someone who only knows positivity and possibilities, who never gives up. She is the one who jokes, laughs, dances, and makes me laugh. She is the one who played with me as a child, plays with my children, and finds the playfulness in life. She is the one who practices mindfulness and meditation, and who is thoughtful and magical in her ways. She is a healer, a source of positive and universal energy. How lucky for me to have had this amazing role model.

And then there are all those other great women in my life who have shared with me their wisdom and ways.  Everyday I learn something new from the women who surround me, be they mothers or not. I feel blessed to be surrounded by such powerhouses, with amazing insight and experiences. I take all of this in to help me in my most challenging undertaking, that of raising my children.

To my dear fellow women raising children out there, around the world, a big salute to you because I know what a challenge it can be sometimes and I hope you recognize the value of your effort and your amazing contribution to the human race.

My friend wrote something to me in an email the other day, it was an ordinary email response but oh, so powerful. This is a friend who does not have children of her own.  She wrote me after I commented to her about my daughter being upset at my not letting her do something. She wrote back,

“Your daughter is fortunate to have you as a mom.  It’s not always easy – I say this from watching my sister and closest girlfriends raise children.  I admire all of you mothers for the gift you provide to our planet.  It’s great to set boundaries and also prioritize yourself!!!!  This is something not enough moms do even though everyone benefits! “

Wow, “the gift I provide to the planet”, that sounds very powerful when put that way. And in all of this we also need to follow my sage friend’s advice, to ”prioritize yourself”, find time for yourself too.  We must not lose ourselves in the everyday craziness of parenting. We must find time to learn and achieve new things, to better ourselves, and to reward ourselves. We must first take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Aim for greatness as a person, and greatness is what you’ll hope to impart on your child.

What more can I say, wherever you are in the world, raise that glass of wine, beer, margarita, shot of aguardiente, detox juice, or just a beautiful crystal glass of sparkling water, and join me in this special Mother’s Day toast, in celebration of who we are and the special role we play,

I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day, and a Happy Mother’s Life.

Brussels, Belgium
June 2000

Cordoba, Spain
December 2011