Your time is limited

After a week of endless celebrations and Boomerangs, I officially graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs from The George Washington University yesterday. Each year, this is a time for reminiscing before moving full-speed ahead onto what's next. This year, I have been incredibly lucky to celebrate this occasion and reflect on the past four years, surrounded by so much love from family and friends.

This has made me think a lot about Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement address. In particular, in one of the three stories he shared, he stressed that, "Your time is limited." He's right – I had just four years to make GW not only my home, but also my sandbox, empowering me to broadly explore the world around me. When I look back at how I have developed in this short period of time, I am immediately reminded of, and am thankful for, the moments inside the classroom, within student organizations and internships and with my friends; there were countless unique opportunities inside and outside my comfort zone to grow. Everything I wanted to do or try, I could do here at GW.

I also remember the wisdom then-Provost Lerman told our class: to succeed in life, acquire T-shaped skills, representing both the breadth and depth of knowledge. As an undergraduate, I engaged in diverse experiences, challenges and opportunities, which have undoubtedly broadened my life. But there's more left to do. 

Now, it is time to focus these broad life experiences on developing a deeper appreciation and understanding on what I care about most: policy-making, especially as it relates to the technology space in the context of the U.S.-China relationship. The potential to contribute to this convoluted intersection of technology and policy excites me — it is an area where I have often seen disconnects between policy-makers and technologists, as well as between those who make and communicate policy. I want to be that bridge that brings everything, and everyone, together. 

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I believe I found how to do just that several months ago, news that I have been waiting to share until one of the most important projects of my life, undergrad, was complete. I am excited to officially and finally share that, starting this Fall, I will begin a two-year Masters program in Public Policy, as a GW Presidential Administrative Fellow at the GW Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. I cannot wait to make these next years even more challenging by diving deep into the very field I am most intensely passionate about for the purpose to equip myself with broad and deep knowledge for the new digital age.

I believe the global internet community functions better when all of us who have a stake participate in policy decisions that affect our lives, from free speech and net neutrality to privacy. 

Earlier last week, Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO, said at the annual Google I/O conference, "It'll take all of us working together to bring the benefits of technology to everyone." One day, I hope to be a voice that drives nuanced, thoughtful technology policy. Completing a Masters in Public Policy will provide me with the scope of knowledge to do the important work of building and uniting a global community to develop more inclusive policies that enable life-changing technologies to be universally accessible. Where I am going only makes sense by looking back at how, as Steve Jobs noted, the dots before this moment now connect. I cannot wait to slowly connect the dots – I am just getting started.

Steve Jobs concluded his address by quoting The Whole Earth Catalog: "Stay hungry, stay foolish." My life has been shaped by these very words — to stay humble, to stay open and to push forward every single day. I am incredibly excited to have this opportunity to continue pursuing what I love, to interact with new ideas and to make every second of this wonderful life matter. In fact, each year, as I move out, I am filled with new energy to "stay hungry" and "stay foolish," a reminder to not become too comfortable with life or to settle.

Most importantly, thank you to everyone who has been, and is, part of this journey, my life. I am so genuinely grateful for the love, positivity and support I am endlessly surrounded with every day. To those Arizona and Catalina Island friends, the type of true friends who continue to grow together even thousands of miles away, while never letting me forget where I come from, even during the moments I fail terribly at promptly responding or properly staying in touch. To the new friends, the ones who deserve credit for making D.C. more than just an incredible city, but rather, a home. To the sweet boy who brings me meaning to the happiest Taylor Swift lyrics. And, to my family, unsung heroes who, I think, often forget just how appreciated, important and loved they are in the context of my life. My life has been shaped and touched by countless individuals who have cared — I am always indebted to you.

With each of you by my side, I am thrilled to move forward, full-speed ahead, to do, learn and live the most that I absolutely can these next two years by taking full advantage of this time to build a wider and, more importantly, deeper scope of knowledge.

United Express Flight 3411

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What happened today on United Express flight 3411 is horrifying and wrong. No one, regardless of their age, race, religion or otherwise should ever have their personal dignity stripped in that manner, much less have to feel unsafe in a public space or be subjected to the type of assault documented in the video on United Express flight 3411. Nothing can justify the experience or treatment that was endured — there is nothing to defend.

Recently, United, together with its employees, recently published its first-ever statement of Shared Purpose and Values. At the very top of the list are "We Fly Right" and "We Fly Friendly." 

We Fly Right: On the ground and in the air, we hold ourselves to the highest standards in safety and reliability. We earn trust by doing things the right way and delivering on our commitments every day.

We Fly Friendly: Warm and welcoming is who we are.

What happened on United Express flight 3411 exemplify neither of those values and is uncharacteristic of the airline I have come to love from the first time I flew when I was five. I am not only deeply disappointed, but appalled that this happened on United. It has weighed heavily on my heart and mind.

From the moment that Oscar Munoz became United's new CEO, there was new hope and promise that United would live up to its full potential. I have been proud of the emphasis, recognition and urgency that Oscar and the rest of the United team has placed in making positive changes at United and for its customers. Despite achieving record on-time performance and improving many areas of the United system, moments of grief and shock like these continue to be too routine for United — that's not okay.

For me, I first became inspired by United after watching one of their internal videos to employees, "We are United":

But, truth be told, while we are proud to be an industry leader in aircraft, flights and services, any airline can buy planes, route flights and reward miles. Our brand is not a collection of equipment, facilities and services, but a collection of faces and names. It is the people who serve our customers who make up what United is... To our customer, our identity will always be tied to his or her experience with these people and every one of our 80,000 employees. 

This same Duty of Care is a message that Oscar Munoz has reiterated since becoming CEO, which can be seen as a foundation to United's new Shared Purpose and Values:

Such are the ripples that a single act of caring can send forth into the world.

At United Airlines, every year we serve more than 140 million passengers around the globe, around the clock, every day. That's 140 million stories — of a young professional whose career depends on making that last flight out today; of friends who need to get to that wedding on time; of a parent who can't miss tucking in their children. Every passenger matters. Each flight counts. That is a profound responsibility that we take seriously.

To be honest, too often in the past, a discourteous comment, a missed connection, or an unhelpful service experience left customers — not to mention many of our own employees — with a negative feeling towards United. My task is to turn that around, and it starts with instilling a culture of caring and trust at every level.

These commitments were the basis of what made United my airline of choice. Yet, these are the same commitments of care that was wholly absent in the video shared today of United Express flight 3411.

Today, if you lost the trust you had in United, I understand. Or, if the worst of what you thought of United was validated, I understand too.

With 54 countries, 4,523 daily departures and the Star Alliance, United has the world's most comprehensive route network. With MileagePlus, United also has the world's most rewarding loyalty program. Yet, none of these strengths that United has will matter if it cannot get one thing right: how it treats its customers. As Oscar said, "every day, [United] helps unite the the world by connecting people the moments that matter most," which is a "profound responsibility." 

Today, United failed at that responsibility on the most basic level.

To Oscar and the United team, air travel is something that is hard to get right. Air travel has also become essential to our globalized world. Air travel has also become a commodity. That does not change United's responsibility to treat customers right, nor does it justify the type of action that was taken today. The last point of United's Shared Purpose and Values statement is to fly above and beyond.

Whether it is an individual being denied soda because of their appeared background, a young girl being denied boarding because of her clothing of choice, or a man being forced off a flight, these things should have never happened. And should never happen again. And if these situations do happen, as no airline is perfect, United should have open and honest conversations, together with its customers, about what happened and how to move forward. From day one, Oscar has been committed to not only building United to be an exceptional airline, but also the world's greatest airline — that means living by those higher standards and treating situations like today's with the seriousness it deserves, not as something that routinely happens at other airlines and in the airline industry.

The trust that United has fought so hard to earn back within the last year will be even harder to win back now. But do not make this the normal. Be better every day and show the world the airline United really is and what United really stands for. That starts today.

UPDATE 4/27/17: United published a detailed review and action report today of the incident that occurred on United Express Flight 3411. Oscar Munoz had promised a report to be released by April 30, 2017. It can be found here:
https://hub.united.com/united-review-action-report-2380196105.html

Cuba

La Habana. Havanna. Havana. La Havana. L'avana. Hawana.

After a few days of reflection, I still don't have the words to describe Havana or my experience there just yet. In sharing photos with friends afterwards, the closest I have come to is saying that it feels like you are stuck in a film set depicting the 1950s-1960s — it's fascinating. The streets are busy, with people sitting outside their doorsteps. The parks are filled with people looking down at their devices, trying to connect to WiFi for an hour, a full display of the oppression Cubans face in accessing the world's information. And the roads, well, you know: they're filled with classic cars that don't have seatbelts.

And as such, Havana is a charming, intriguing and weird place, truly unlike any other place I have been. I'll be sharing more over the next weeks, once I can better and more thoughtfully articulate the moments we experienced, the things we saw and the week we had there. Perhaps the best way to describe Cuba is this, though:: "That’s how it is in Cuba today, a stunning tropical island that constantly presents American visitors with contrasts, contradictions and plenty of mystery."
http://pilotonline.com/life/flavor/lorraine-eaton/my-visit-to-cuba-contrasts-contradictions-and-plenty-of-mystery/article_168e6063-7ef3-5447-b566-68eb4465f805.html

As President Obama said in 2014 about Cuba, "We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result." Thanks, Obama, for taking steps to achieve progress in U.S.-Cuba relations and life for the Cuban people.
http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/12/17/371405620/the-u-s-and-cuba-a-brief-history-of-a-tortured-relationship