One Student’s 25-Year Dream For Harvard Kennedy School

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Edward Dianhui Don, MC-MPA 2015

By Malik Siraj Akbar, Web Editor  

In 1991, the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) admitted a young Chinese student, Edward Dianhui Dong, for the MPP program. Devoid of financial resources, Dong did not have the money to come to HKS but he, nevertheless, travelled from China to Cambridge to thank the School staff for accepting him at the prestigious institution. Dong never gave up his dream. The Kennedy School remained his dream and destination as well. 25 years later, Dong’s dream finally came true as he came to HKS as a mid-career MPA student. Committed to public service, which is also the core value of this school, Edward Dong, who represents the Kennedy School Student Government at the Harvard Graduate Student Government, is announcing a $500K endowment (The Edward Dong Family Fund) at the Kennedy School in order to assist future students in need of financial assistance, strengthen student organizations and promote U.S.-China relations. The Citizen spoke to Edward Dong about his 25-year long journey to the Kennedy School.

Tell us something about your background.

I was born and raised in China. When I was 20, I obtained my Chinese B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering. In 1997, I immigrated to the United States in my pursuit of the “American dream” and I have been living in the Los Angeles area ever since.

In 1988, I was very fortunate to be selected as a member of China’s first joint MBA program, which was sponsored by the Chinese and American governments in cooperation with the State University of New York at Buffalo. The goal was to support Chinese economic reforms and the open-door policy and to train a group of forward looking future Chinese leaders. I graduated from the program with my MBA from SUNY at Buffalo in 1991 and now serve on the Dean’s Advisory Council since 2012.

After SUNY, I worked for a US-UK company, rising to the Group VP and the Founder of China Operations. I worked for the firm over the past 20 years and until returning to Harvard in 2014 to realize a 25-year dream that began on June 4th, 1989.

In 2012, I was awarded a “China Economy Top 10 Business Leader” by the China Economic Review and China Economic Daily, the first person to win this prestigious award as the representative of millions of employees and professionals working in foreign companies, organizations, and agencies in China.

I was also honored to be named the first “Person of the Year of Multinationals in China 2013” by the China Economic Information Press.

As a Chinese American, I feel it a great honor to come to HKS to realize my dream at last and I am graduating in 2 months.

Share with us your 25-year dream of coming to HKS? What took you so long to come here?

During my MBA study, a historic event happened in Chinese history and one that proved to be a milestone in the democracy movement in China–the events of June 4th 1989, which is now remembered as the Beijing Tiananmen Square Student Democracy Movement.

I went to Beijing and joined fellow students for 3 days. From that event, as a young man, I saw how China so sincerely was in need of political reforms that mirrored its economic reforms. However, those economic reforms failed to develop due to the lack of political reforms. I came to see that political reform–as a strong soft power of a nation–is the key to China’s future and for the dream of a “happy China.”

Therefore, I applied to HKS in 1990 and I received admission to the MPP program, which was a great honor for me.

The problem was that my scholarship was for $9,000 a year and it was not enough to cover my studies. I could not come! At that time, my two younger sisters were in college and I needed to find a job to support them to complete their studies. (There was no student loan in China at that time).

However, I did not give up and I sent a letter to HKS confirming I would come to HKS one day and that I would work hard to one day afford my HKS study. I even flew in May 1994 to HKS to show my thanks and to re-affirm my determination.

Focusing on work, I met Mr. Yudie Fishman in 1992 and joined his family-owned business in Southern California. It was a great company and a beautiful family. After the company acquisition in 1997, I worked with Dr. Bromley Beadle as my CEO until the end of 2013 and before starting at HKS.

Throughout the past 20 years, I was involved in company acquisitions, mergers, group internal integrations and witnessed the market fluctuations that occurred as a result of 9/11 and the 2008/2009 financial crisis. I also experienced changes in my personal life. I married, immigrated to this beautiful country, had two lovely sons, and built a beautiful family…..time flies!

However, my dream to be at the Harvard Kenney School, my dream for a democratic and “happy China” with a competitive and modern political system– a China that supports freedom of speech and press, equal opportunity and full elections–remained with me every single day and I never gave up hoping.

Finally, this last year I realized my first dream–to come to HKS–and it took a degree of personal courage at this age and after 25 years to go through all the application process again, including the GMAT test. But I followed the believe that it is never too late!

You were elected with the highest votes as a member of the Kennedy School Student Government for the Harvard Graduate Student Council. What is your role at the Council? What are the highlights of your experiences with the Council?

There are a total of 12 graduate schools at Harvard, including HKS, HLS, and HBS. As the Harvard Graduate Student Government (HGSG) representative, I am like an ambassador to the Council on behalf of the Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG). I attend two meetings every two weeks in KSSG and HGSG.

HKS actively participated in the events organized by HGSG and the co-organized student activities like the Valentine’s Day event.

The other important thing I did is to receive a KSSG subsidization of $3,000 from my donation to HGSG for the One Harvard Ideal, setting up an example to the other 11 schools.

20110308-D.C.JPGLast year, you announced the Edward Dong and Allister Chang Faculty, Staff and Fellow Appreciation Fund at the Kennedy School. What is it about and who will benefit from it?

This is an exciting program that stems from my donation to KSSG after several discussions and the support of Melissa Wojciechowski, Director of Student Activities, Amy Davis, Director of MPA Program, Matt Clemons, Director of Admissions, Allister Chang, President of KSSG, as well as my midcareer classmates like Jonathan Porter, Kellyn Blossom, Jose Delgado and Scott Jacobson….

It is for the students to show our respect and gratitude to the faculty, staff, and fellows for their great efforts to make our studies and life at HKS a special and unique experience. The idea is that by the end of the class or semester, students and study groups will have a Thank You card signed by all students together with a bouquet of flowers to the faculty, staff, and fellows for their great work.

This is a new program and it was very welcomed.

In addition to the Appreciation Fund, my donation also supports a few more programs such as HKS China Society to promote Sino-US Relations, “Beyond the Class” coffee discussions, Subsidy to HGSG for One Harvard Ideal, support to the KSSG Administration and new Initiatives, and the HKS Students Sports Tournament.

How does the mid-career program at the Kennedy School add value to your professional life? What would be your feedback to a mid-career professional anywhere in the world who wants to get into the mid-career program at the Kennedy School?

I love the mid-career program very much. It is truly rewarding and inspiring! It is a great class of incredibly talented and smart classmates with dreams, passion, belief, ambition, purpose, and courage.

They are from 70 countries with an average of 12 years working experience. They are special and unique–the elites in their areas and I really learned a lot from them. I feel very fortunate and honored to be part of the cohort.

IMG_2062.JPGTell us a little bit about your family because they must have supported you greatly in the past years, specially now for your studies in HKS.

Yes, I am very blessed that I have a beautiful family who has supported me over the past years, and especially during my frequent international business travels, and now my MPA studies here at HKS. The love from and to my family has empowered me forward.

My wife and I are very proud of our two sons Richard Dong, 14, and Eric Dong, 12. Richard won the 2nd Place in 2013 American Protégé International Competition for Romantic Music and played piano in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He is also on the USA Swimming Team in LA. Eric plays piano, too.

Both boys participated in the 2015 Harvard Annual National Forensics Tournament. Richard even came to play piano for the Harvard Masquerade Ball 2015 which was held for graduate students this year. He is also coming to play piano for the HKS Talent Show on May 1, 2015.

What are your post-graduation plans?

First of all, I would like to make an endowment to HKS to show my gratitude and support. It is my great honor that I have received two admission letters from HKS, one in 1991 and the other more than twenty years later in 2014.

The $500,000 endowment (The Edward Dong Family Fund) is the first of a multi-year donation that will support the Appreciation Fund, the HKS China Society to promote Sino-US relations, scholarships for 5 current students each year, the Dean’s Fund for student scholarship, and a new HKS Speaker Series.

In short, I hope to support students with the same passion for public service that I first felt 25 years ago to realize their dream to study at HKS without having to wait the 25 years I waited.

In addition, I hope this endowment will help the children of my mid-career classmates and my friends at Harvard and young minds in other parts of the world receive a stellar education and to be well prepared for public service in the future.

Moreover, I will help to establish Harvard Club Guangzhou China to promote Harvard values in this region of the world.

As HKS Dean Ellwood says “together we can make the world a better place.”

For my long-term plans, I will work to strengthen political reforms and development of democracy in China, which I believe to be the realization of a dream for a “happy China” in the hearts of 1.4 billion people over the past 100 years. I will, as a bridge, help the Sino-US friendship and co-operations. That is my American dream!

In many ways, I hope to carry on the message in “Fair Harvard” written by Reverend Samuel Gilman of the class of 1811 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Harvard:

“With freedom to think,
and with patience to bear.
And for right ever bravely to live,
Let not moss-covered error moor thee at its side,
As the world on truth’s current glides by.
Be the herald of light,
and the bearer of love”

HKS is for democracy and freedom,
It gives us dream, courage and opportunity,
It sows seeds of love and wisdom
To everywhere its graduates be!