“Only in America”

I was invited to say a few words at an event last night called the “Unity Dinner.”  State Treasurer Steven Grossman kicked off the night with a passionate perspective on innovation and entrepreneurship.

The key note speaker was Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, and other speakers from the tech side included Joe Chung of ATG and Redstar Ventures and Niraj Shah of Wayfair.  There was a lot of mingling afterwards.

It was a fun evening.  A few things stick out in my mind this morning:

  • “Only in America”: Dean Nohria mentioned this a few times.  He said, for example, that only in America can he be Dean of HBS.  In India, where he was born, to be dean of a major business school would require political connections.  Only in America, he said, can a naturalized citizen become Dean of a school to which he was not accepted when he applied as a prospective student.  A very humble and telling example.
  • A personal story: A woman came up to me at the end of the evening and mentioned her background.  I won’t do her story justice, but here’s what she said:

“I grew up in a concentration camp in Cambodia.  My father was arrested, tortured and killed.  My mother took care of her six children herself.  We were able to escape to Thailand.  We were lucky enough to get sponsorship to come to America.  We were the only Cambodian family in Jamaica Plain.  I am so grateful.  I’d like to meet you and discuss innovation in the public sector.  I’d really like to give back.”

As you may know, I wasn’t born in the United States.  I’m a naturalized citizen, a “convert,” if you will.  Events like last night give me great hope.  The American Dream and the American Spirit are still alive and well.

We have our fair share of problems in this country, but I think we are the “least worse” of the lot.  Europe is in a tight jam, Japan’s economy has not grown much in 20 years, and China’s growth is slowing as its one-child policy means that there will be fewer and fewer workers taking care of more and more retired people.

I have a confession to make.  When I go to a baseball game and the crowd stands up to sing the Star Spangled Banner, more often than not, I am moved.  My chest tightens, I think about my mother (more here), and I think about the many American men and women who have died in so many wars.  Sounds sentimental, I know.  Well, guilty as charged.

They say the strongest believers in a religion are its converts.  Well, count me in as a patriot.  “Only in America” is a phrase that says so much.  What a great evening.

Thank you Vinit Nijhawan for including me.

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