Somber Past, Bright Future

Brandon Wong

Posted by Matsui Washington Fellow Brandon Wong.

The past few weeks have been a little rough. I’ve been trying to shake off a persisting cold, to little avail. On top of that, applying for jobs takes up a great deal of my time, in addition to scholarly pursuits here at the UC Center. Finally, I made an obligatory excursion to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum a few weeks ago. I say “obligatory,” because I believe wholeheartedly that everyone must eventually witness the tragedies of the Holocaust to honor the living and the dead. Reading Elie Weisel’s Night in high school was an emotionally exhausting endeavor, affecting me in a way few books have. However, even books about the Holocaust don’t fully capture the human suffering and cruelty; going to the Museum made that clear to me. One thing about the Museum that really stuck with me was the boxcar they had on display for museum goers to walk through. Of course, eventual victims of the death camps were transported by train in box cars. They were often packed to the brim, allowing very little freedom of movement. Walking through the boxcar sent a chill down my spine and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Though I was technically alone in the sense that no one was in or around the boxcar with me, I did not feel truly alone. I doubt I’ll ever forget that.

That’s the somber part of my post. Everything else around here has been fantastic. I think one of the best things about living at the UC Center is that you get to meet so many new people. I’ve met students from almost all UC campuses (sorry, Merced!), as well as from a few of the non-California schools. Two of my closest friends here are actually from Carnegie Mellon University. CMU students live up to their reputation of being science and technology fanatics, which is fascinating to me. My friends Joe and Max had a long and intense discussion one night about machine learning and artificial intelligence, two topics I knew very little about. By the end of the night, I was both enlightened and terrified. It’s wonderful making friends with different perspectives, and I feel like this personal enrichment dovetails nicely with the professional development I receive from work.

My new friends from Carnegie Mellon. From left to right: Joe Chi, me, Max Goetschel

My new friends from Carnegie Mellon. From left to right: Joe Chi, me, Max Goetschel

Speaking of work, things at AEI are picking up. A week or so ago, we hosted a talk given by co-CEO of Teach for America, Elisa Villanueva Beard. A lot of criticism has been leveled at TFA, but I think it is ultimately a force for good for thousands of children in poor communities across the United States. In addition to some of the talks we’ve been hosting, I’ve been working extensively with our Early Childhood Education fellow, Katharine Stevens, on a new project. Without giving too much away, states across the country—red and blue alike—are investing greater taxpayer resources in preschool and early childhood initiatives. Educating our youngest minds has become a bipartisan issue, and we hope to see more development in that area in the future. Finally, I am proud to announce that some of my writing appears on a blog other than the Matsui Center’s (sorry, IGS!). I recently wrote a short piece on a piece of legislation called FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and how it inadequately addresses contemporary issues in student privacy. You can read the post here.

Things are going well, and they’re only going to get better. This coming Thursday I will have the chance to meet my ideological hero and potential presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul. As I write this, I can barely contain my excitement! Later this weekend, I will be attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an event that showcases the rock stars of the American political Right. I’ve wanted to go for a few years, but now that I’m on the East Coast I’ll finally be able to. Finally, one of my closest friends from Cal will be visiting next weekend. DC is a wonderful place to be, but sometimes I miss going to Sliver with my Berkeley friends. Now I’ll get the best of both worlds! Adventure awaits!


Brandon Wong is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying political science and public policy. He is currently interning with the American Enterprise Institute as a Matsui Washington Fellow.

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