“Dream Big, Start Small”
by Kunduck Moon ’76
Kunduck Moon ’76 is managing director of ING Capital. He has served as member and as secretary of the AYA Board of Governors. (Cristina Moon graduated from the University of Chicago in 2005.)
I became an AYA delegate nine years ago, thinking, “How hard could it be?” After all, when I “applied” for the job, I was the managing director of a large commercial bank. But, as I wrote to my class secretary, perhaps my chief qualification was that “I live in Stamford, Connecticut, . . . thus making it quite easy for me to attend meetings and conferences at Yale.” For three years I went dutifully to New Haven for AYA assemblies, twice a year. (I admit that I boycotted for a year after my daughter Cristina was not admitted to Yale.)
Then things got a little harder. In 2003, I was elected to the AYA Board of Governors and started advocating that the AYA hold an on-campus conference for Asian and Asian American alumni. This fit in nicely with a strategy the board was developing: the addition of “shared interest groups” to the traditional alumni mix of classes, clubs, and associations. In late 2005, the board gave the go-ahead for a conference titled “Foundations and Futures” the following spring; I was appointed conference chair. The event, we hoped, would highlight the interests and achievements of Asian and Asian American Yale alumni. We assumed that if you have nearly 9,000 Asian and Asian American alumni, then it naturally followed that they would want a conference, they’d attend it, and they’d have plenty to share.
But it was not so easy. Three weeks before the date, we had to cancel the conference due to the surprisingly low registration. We were disappointed and discouraged. Were there really no common interests among Yale’s Asian and Asian American alumni?
So we started the hard work of rethinking our approach. We decided to start small and build a network. Fortunately, we already had a model, for a couple of decades earlier Grant Din ’79 had formed the Association of Asian American Yale Alumni (AAAYA) in San Francisco. I wrote to Grant, explaining that a few of us had met to discuss future plans and concluded that we should begin by building a local network in the metropolitan New York area. We also felt that our New York group should become a chapter of AAAYA, which would then be the unifying organization for all Asian American alumni.
And we kept working. In June, we had the first New York gathering and about 20 alumni came. That was not a large turnout, but we were elated! In September we followed up with the screening of Red Door, a movie about a Chinese American family in New Jersey, and cocktails: more than 100 alumni from several Ivy League schools attended. Then we got bolder. We took over a club for the evening and invited only Yale alumni, and nearly 100 people came.
Clearly, we were on to something. We were taking small steps, offering what the alumni liked, and they were responding. We also stayed close to the current Yale students. We sponsored seven students to “shadow” alumni for a week in spring externship programs; a dozen sophomores came to New York for a day and had dinner with alumni. Pei Wei (Rebekah) Woo ’99MA has continued to put on social events, and the number of successful events keeps growing.
We took on more work to make the AAAYA a national organization. My Luu ’96 met with alumni in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles to organize their chapters; Tonny Ho ’76 and Rocky Chin ’71MCP worked on incorporation papers and governance structure, and Grant Din and Harry Chang ’84 in San Francisco provided comments; Mark Lee ’04 designed a new website for AAAYA. Many others helped — quietly. On November 16 the inaugural board of AAAYA had its first meeting in Rose Alumni House. We had members from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, New York, Colorado, and Hong Kong attending.
Much work remains. We want to organize chapters in Boston and Chicago and roll out ever more programs. The number of Asian and Asian American alumni attending November’s assembly and AAAYA board meeting exceeded the number of alumni who registered for the cancelled conference. The disappointment and the pain of a cancelled conference brought us to this point.
As for the future — well, how hard could it be?