Tim Hwang – Changing Things Up

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one” Bill Gates

Timothy Hwang woke up one morning with over ninety Facebook notifications. Most people would feel accomplished with just 10, or 15 at best, but not Hwang; such occurrences are common for him. With over four thousand friends on Facebook, Timothy Hwang, now a rising sophomore at Princeton University, could possibly be mistaken for a celebrity.

Unlike his notifications however, Hwang’s fame was not a sudden, “woke up one morning to find myself a star(/feeling like P. Diddy?)” phenomenon. Rather, it was a gradual process that required great determination, ambition and passion.

What began as a simple desire to “change things” and “make a difference in society” led him to become the public-speaking powerhouse, the demagogue for his peers. No longer just your average over-achieving Asian American student, Hwang is now the President of the National Youth Association- the “Youth lobby of America”, the CEO of Operation Fly- a student led non-profit organization that helps the homeless, and Managing Partner of the Articulance Consulting Group- one of the nation’s leading consulting firms. At a glance, these titles may seem like mere resume boosters with no particular significance. But a deeper look into each of these organizations shows the potential and power they hold within.

Founded in 2010, The National Youth Association (NYA) is a “national membership organization that advocates for youth in government, in the corporate world, and in media.” Simply put, it provides new venue for the youth to voice their opinions. From sponsoring forums, town halls and debates to assisting students with college preparation, the NYA “strives to provide a high quality of life for youth.” To give a small example of what it has been doing thus far, it has recently developed a project called “Project 26” which is “a campaign to register 2.6 Million 18-26 Year Olds on the 40thAnniversary of the 26thAmendment while raising over $10 Million for youth-friendly candidates in the 2012 Elections.” As overly aggressive as such a goal may sound, Hwang is confident in the NYA’s ability to meet it.

But is the NYA really necessary? Hwang shows that yes, it is. Articles upon countless articles constantly seek the opinions of politicians and hotshot lobbying firms, but never the students. Though those of the younger generation are said to be America’s future, they are not asked to participate in shaping it. But now they do not have to wait to be asked. With the creation of the NYA, all they need do now is speak, and they will be heard. If there is the AARP for the elderly, there is now the NYA for the youth.

To Hwang, the NYA represents “our generation’s ability to play a significant role in politics and society at-large and a chance to demonstrate that we won’t be sidelined.” In establishing the NYA, Hwang demonstrates his faith, not in himself, but in his peers. From his campaigning days for President Obama, Hwang has come to recognize the budding possibilities should the students, those who hold the “power to leverage social media and the internet,” rise to action. It is now up to the students themselves to acknowledge and take advantage of it.

Of course, the NYA could not have been without Operation Fly Inc., Hwang’s first creation. Operation Fly Inc. is a 100% grassroots, student-led, non-profit organization founded in 2007 to serve the homeless in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. After personally witnessing “extreme poverty [both] abroad and in the United States,” Hwang’s concern for the people’s welfare took flight to grow into an organization that has poured out more than 60,000 hours of service.

It has since then expanded to four more regions: Baltimore, Boston, New York and Chicago. Operation Fly Inc. began rather humbly with meetings in Krispy Kreme restaurants as students strategized innovative ways to feed and clothe D.C.’s homeless population. With its regional tutoring programs and weekly trips to Washington D.C. to pass out hand-made sandwiches, it is no wonder that Operation Fly Inc. has grown to what it is now and that Hwang is now the proud recipient of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award- the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs.

It was thanks to the lessons learned about community-based organizations while managing Operation Fly Inc. that Hwang created the Articulance Consulting Group (ACG). ACG provides the “necessary consulting services to entrepreneurs” as their services range from “trend and demographic analysis to product development and testing.”

Amid all such successes, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Hwang is a student who has had his share of trials and tribulations. Coming from a Korean family, his parents wanted him to pursue what all Korean/Asian parents want their child to pursue: Law or Medicine. It was only after he proved his talents in the political and business spheres that Hwang’s parents began to give him leeway.  

His next challenge came from the stereotype that Asians excel in academics. Attending a nationally ranked high school where there was a significantly big Asian population and fierce competition among students did not make matters any easier. In his efforts to stand out, by the time Hwang graduated from high school, he had taken twenty-two AP (Advanced Placement) classes, some of which he had studied for on his own. Unsurprisingly, Hwang saw the fruits of his labor when he was named one of two Maryland’s AP State Scholars. 

His last and final challenge revolved around his identity crisis. While he was proud to be a Korean, he had believed that “being a ‘true-blooded American’ meant you had to give up your ethnic identity. I used to want so badly to be an ‘average American’ playing baseball, eating apple pie, etc.” Like many youth of immigrant families, Hwang struggled to find the balance between his Korean and American backgrounds. What did it mean to be an American? A Korean? A Korean-American? It was during his service for the Obama campaign that he learned the “importance of diversity, the fact that there is no ‘average American,’ and that we all have the ability to make a tremendous difference regardless of age, sex or race.”

From clashes with parents to encountering an identity crisis, if you look only at Hwang’s hardships, he sounds like your typical over-achieving Asian American student. And he is. But he is an over-achieving Asian American student who decided to “dream big and not be afraid to fail.”

Despite all that he has achieved already, Hwang continues to aspire, for this is not the end- he has only just begun. Through his work in the NYA, Operation Fly Inc. and Articulance, he has proven that age is but a number; race, but a color.

Such truths apply to everyone- not just Timothy Hwang. Whether you are a Korean, Nicaraguan or Bengali, you are, as Hwang says, a “testament to the strength of the United States.” You have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to free speech. So are you going to sit in the back of the room, keeping silent? Or will you testify and take action while your life passes by? The choice is yours.

Gahee Lee, Intern reporter, glee@kamerican.com

2011-07-18 22:25:31

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sean o'sullivan

ay, help me out; how did u start operation fly; i gotta do something

2011-10-19 14:32:32X