Leland High School Alumni Return to share their journeys
By Claire Chen - Leland Bridge Student Writer
What seemed like any other business meeting between two executives at Spotify ended as more when they found they were both former students of Leland High School.
Kenneth Chen (Vice President of Finance Strategy, Operations and Risk) and Ben Kung (Vice President, Head of Financial Planning and Analysis) planned a professional discussion typical of their jobs. But this was more than yet another of Kung and Chen’s discussion of their shared present, it was also a discovery of their shared past.
While their time at Leland never overlapped (Chen graduated in 1999, while Kung graduated in 2006), they had in common, as Chen puts it, “Many of the same memories” and had “A lot of fun trading war stories.”
From comparable roots and high school experiences to working high level positions at the same company, Chen and Kung might appear to have taken similar paths in life — but that is far from the case. Each embarked on their own unique journey, from high school to present, the story of which was presented to current Leland students during a seminar organized by Leland Bridge Parents Group last Saturday, October 15.
As a student, Chen’s parents urged him to focus on coursework in high school, and then pursue a path in medicine or engineering in college. However, Chen himself had always felt that English was his best and favorite subject — and began trying to find something, “I wanted to do with my life that wouldn’t make my parents too upset.” He ended in a compromise to pursue business, and Chen eventually graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley — an easy choice for Chen, who had never considered leaving his home state California for college. In fact, he might have stayed his whole life if not for his first job at PwC San Francisco, who sent him on a fateful business trip to Stockholm, Sweden for six months.
Chen originally approached this trip telling himself, “Whatever could go wrong, I’m going home in 6 months, so live the Swedish life to the fullest.” As he said during the seminar, it was this mentality that gave him “the freedom to explore Sweden,” Without holding anything back, and that’s actually why I ended up staying here.” Today, through accidental discovery and learning to love the unexpected, Chen has found a home in Amsterdam with his wife and baby daughter, and a job he loves at Spotify.
In comparison, Kung remembers being on the Leland Speech and Debate team and being part of Journalism as the most formative parts of his high school experience. He stated on Saturday that, “Despite being a more math-oriented person, these two extracurricular activities actually shaped me.” For Kung, college would be a leap outside his comfort zone, literally and mentally. Going to college, “Not knowing what I wanted to study at all,” Kung’s parents wanted him to pursue a medical path, but in Kung’s own words, “I have not been exactly known to obey my parents all the time, and so, when I got to college, I decided to forge my own route.” He also decided to go to Princeton University in New Jersey, a far cry from his home state of California. Despite such barriers, Kung ultimately graduated from Princeton with a degree in Economics and a minor in Finance. Kung stresses the importance of discovery in his journey, as, “Growing up in California, all I knew were the standard careers as a doctor or lawyer; I had parents who worked as software engineers, but I had no idea what a finance career even was until I went to the East Coast, which opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even know about.” After graduating Princeton, Kung moved to New York City and took up a job there as an Investment Banking Analyst at Morgan Stanley, but today, he considers himself returned to his Silicon Valley roots by working at technology company Spotify.
In more ways than one, the seminar was a full circle moment for Chen and Kung. Organized and hosted by Leland Bridge Parents Group, a parent and student organization at local Leland High School that aims to close the distance between Asian-American families and the school community.
Aside from recounting their separate journeys, both alumni also participated in Q&A. Chen and Kung offered their advice on balancing parental expectations with personal passion, with Chen explaining that something he didn’t understand until now, as a recent new parent, is that parents always want the absolute best for their kids, advising his audience to understand where their parents are coming from. Meanwhile, Kung offered guidance in the form of encouraging the students to find, “What feels right, and be unafraid to try something new.” But it wasn’t all serious, Chen also took questions on his childhood hobbies (video games), Kung recalls being unable to wake up in the morning, and when asked by a student how important knowing Mandarin really was in their jobs, Chen and Kung both smilingly replied, “Not much,” to the relief of more than one student in the seminar, they did, however, remind students that learning another language was helpful in broadening one’s perspectives.
As for finding the right path, Chen and Kung offered their advice to those currently forging their own: “You know something is going right when you actually wake up every day feeling excited about the day in front of you,” says Kung. Chen adds, “For me, personally, when I was younger, I was always looking for the next big thing…but I’ve stopped doing that — I find if I’m content with my life I will be more happy living in the moment than anticipating something in the future.”
Whether it’s a career or a state of mind, this alumni seminar is proof that there is no one right path to our goals. It truly is about the journey, not the destination.