2012 Scholarship Recipient Seokho Hong Writes About His College Experiences

Seokho Hong was the Tracy High 2012 Carol Phan College Scholarship recipient. He has graduated from Stanford with a B.S. in Computer Science and plans to work at Cisco as a Data Scientist.

To see Seokho’s winning entry for the Carol Phan College Scholarship….go here.

Here is Seokho’s 2016 update on his experiences at Stanford and growing up. Thank you, Seokho for sending us this update!  We wish you the best in all your future endeavors leading the way in AI technology. Keep in touch!

stanford university

Even after four years I never got used to the tourists who streamed in by the busload in front of the Main Quad. There was a never-ending flow of families, prospective students, middle-school field trips, and somber-looking business executives, all who would marvel at the grandiose Stanford University. They would pose and take photos of the remarkable occasion–often catching me in the background heading to class on what was probably a very unremarkable day for me. Even now its difficult to give my time at college its due respect. Spending four years in even the most amazing of environments will render the experience rather prosaic.

I graduated with a degree in Computer Science with a strong emphasis on Artificial Intelligence. A.I. will no doubt be the curiosity of the century as computers manage increasingly sophisticated and human-like behavior and intelligence. Studying A.I. takes some of the fun out of it of course, since it explains all the magic behind it, but it’s still fascinating how intelligence can come from crunching enough numbers in the right ways. A.I. is still a rather young field, so by my junior year I was learning almost cutting-edge techniques in my classes and could easily find new and significant areas for research. Although theoretical discoveries were plenty interesting, I’m more of an applied person, so I’m now off to find my place in the tech industry and see where I can be of use. A career in A.I. seems like a pretty good deal: fun work, good pay, and if robots ever take over the world, I’ll be the first to know how they did it.

My academic life was satisfying for the most part, but the more interesting story is how I passed from childhood to adulthood. There are many ways to look at the story of growth and development, but I’ll explain it through the lens of motivation.

Think of motivation as divided into wants and shoulds. The workaholic mentality that was all too common at a school like Stanford generally demonized the wants. You want to go get drunk at a party, or you want to chat with your friends. They push for the shoulds: studying for tests, going to class, doing homework. The wants always seemed to get in the way of being successful in school, so people would so often resort to denying their desires or treating them as an indulgence. For almost everyone, living far from the parents generally meant that their habits of motivation had to be readjusted. Everyone had to compensate to some extent for the absence of their parents.

Outwardly, this succeeds in the vast majority of cases and you get balanced, self-motivated students who don’t need their parents to do well in school. Internally, the process produced a bunch of people who didn’t know what they wanted out of life. We all came in as freshman thinking that college was the time and place to figure that out, yet in our struggle to balance our wants and shoulds, we didn’t put enough effort aside to cultivate the wants. Naturally, quiet unhappiness and personal confusion ensued. I figured out pretty quickly that I needed to sort out what I wanted to do with my life. The shoulds weren’t going to tend to my happiness–only the wants would achieve that.

My greatest achievement in my four years was the amount of time and effort I dedicated to figuring out what I wanted to do and how to balance it with everything else I should be doing. Often times that meant spending more time doing what I wanted to do and letting my academics suffer. Even in retrospect, I’m perfectly happy with the decisions I made. I spent countless hours programming (for fun, not school), playing piano, gaming, writing, reading (again, not for school) all in pursuit of self-understanding. With the straightforward, flexible, and forgiving daily routine, college life was perfect for my sustained experiments. I give the same advice to all incoming freshman who ask: dare to enjoy your life, because it actually isn’t easy to do so.

As a strong introvert, I preferred introspection to interaction, so I didn’t have much of a social life. My social life was probably best characterized by the list of things I didn’t do. I didn’t even go to a single party, never got drunk, never tried any drugs, never hooked-up with anyone, never joined a club and left campus only a handful of times every year. I didn’t ever really want to do these things, nor was I curious enough to try them. Fortunately, it turned out I wasn’t the only one with a huge lists of didn’t-do’s and I still met many wonderful people. I couldn’t ask for better friends.

I chose to not write about the singularly notable or momentous events of my college experience because I have never been able to make anything out of the supposedly remarkable things that happen to me. It is always the prosaic and mundane events that taught me the most, especially those that repeated hundreds of times, day after day. I thought about this irony every now and then, while eating lunch for the millionth time, sitting on the toilet, submitting my homework, or walking to class. I swear, the tourists have got to be the normal people! They find remarkable things remarkable–the proper way of seeing things. But there I sat within the confines of my consciousness, preferring to be oblivious to the way everyone else seemed to be going about their business. The best college experience? Certainly not. But it was the one I picked, and I have no regrets.

Drive Safe! Never Forget.



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