Eric (at the podium) and Richard Dong at the ILF Gala in Washington, D.C. in July 2017. – Courtesy Photo
By May S. Ruiz
Richard and Eric Dong, 17-year-old and 15-year-old residents of Arcadia and students of San Marino High School (SMHS), learned early on that one’s life on earth should be spent in pursuit of meaningful endeavors.
When they were still very little, their parents, Ed and Charity, instilled in Richard’s and Eric’s young minds the values they should act on throughout their lives – to make worthy contributions to the community and to society in general.
Ed and Charity served as exemplars of the virtues they preached and lived up to their ideals. They were born in Mainland China, where they were educated and raised with Chinese traditions. Later, Ed worked as Group Vice President, China General Manager and Founder of China Operations for a US-UK high tech company from 1994 to 2013.
In 1991 the United States and Chinese governments jointly sponsored the establishment of the first China MBA program at SUNY-University of Buffalo. It was part of the two countries’ political reforms and open-door policy to train China’s young and future leaders. Ed was one of the students who completed a master’s degree at the school.
Charity and Ed immigrated to the United States in 1997; their two boys were born here in 2000 and 2002.
In 2015, Ed attended Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for his Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) – the fulfillment of a 25-year dream. He earned admission to the school in 1991 but deferred enrollment because the small scholarship he was awarded wasn’t enough to cover the full tuition and he didn’t have the financial means at the time to pay for the rest.
“Our two boys were raised and educated here. As an immigrant family with cross-cultures we appreciate what the United States stands for; and we respect and promote American values,” Ed states. “I want Richard and Eric to learn both cultures and be instrumental in a future of friendship and cooperation between China and the USA.”
As a business leader and community activist, Ed took Richard and Eric with him meeting clients, joining exhibitions and seminars like the JFK100 Symposium at Harvard Kennedy School. The young children enjoyed sharing in their father’s work and involvement in both business and community.
“I was away a lot, traveling on business, that looking back I regret not having devoted more time with them when they were younger,” confesses Ed. “Now that Richard and Eric are teenagers, I am slowing down to spend time with them before they go to college.”
Charity is glad to share the post she has single-handedly held for a while. During the years Ed was pursuing his MPA and flying internationally for his work, the responsibility of raising the two young boys fell largely on her shoulders. It was a job she did admirably – Richard and Eric grew up to be outstanding scholars, exceptional musicians, and fine athletes.
Richard graduated from Clairbourn School in 2014. – Courtesy Photo
Richard went to Clairbourn School in San Gabriel from kindergarten to eighth grade then to SMHS. A high school junior, he gets excellent grades and is on the school’s swimming and debate team. Also a brilliant pianist, he has been playing the instrument since the age of six; placed second in the 2013 American Protégé International Competition for Romantic Music and displayed that talent during the winners’ recital at Carnegie Hall in New York in April 2014; and was one of the performers with Lang Lang at Disney Hall in June 2016.
Eric also attended Clairbourn then matriculated to Huntington Middle School. He is now a sophomore at SMHS where he is a high achiever. He had piano lessons when he was five years old; placed second in the 2011 American Protégé International Piano and Strings competition, and participated in the winners’ recital in Carnegie Hall in March 2011; and was a performer at Disney Hall with Lang Lang in June 2016. He is likewise on the school’s swimming and debate teams.
What Richard and Eric are most proud of, however, are not their academic and musical awards but their achievements in the areas of public service and community involvement. For as long as they can remember, they have been volunteering as piano performers in various senior citizen centers, public libraries and schools.
In 2015 the two brothers became involved with the International Leadership Foundation (ILF) in Alhambra. A non-profit organization established in 2000, it aims to promote civic engagement, leadership empowerment, and economic prosperity of the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI). The ILF Civic Fellowship is the most prestigious civic leadership program in the country designed to foster the next generation of AANHPI leaders in the field of public service.
Through ILF, Richard and Eric started interning during their summer break for Judy Chu, representative for California’s 27th congressional district.
Relates Eric, “I worked in Congresswoman Chu’s office in Pasadena for eight weeks this past summer doing everything from answering the phones to picking up case work. I was happy and excited to be there.”
Richard, who also worked there two years ago, says about the experience, “We actually had some interaction with constituents; got to know their names and their concerns; wrote reports which our superiors passed along to the Congresswoman. Part of our job, too, was to compose the verbiage for the certificates for the events she attended. This year, they made some changes to the internship program and Eric was able to attend some events.
I have always been quite interested in politics and the opportunity gave me insight into the inner workings of government. Through that internship I realized that most politicians are selfless individuals who think about the greater good,” Richard muses.
“Political work is demanding, requiring a lot of work and time devoted to it. But all the personal sacrifice you put into it in the name of public service satisfies the Asian sense of pride,” Ed interjects.
Richard’s and Eric’s years of volunteering have not gone unrecognized, though. They were recently the recipients of the 2017 President’s Volunteer Service Award, at gold level, with special commitment to education.
Eric and Richard received the 2017 President’s Volunteer Service Award. -Courtesy Photo
And if that weren’t enough, Richard’s and Eric’s extensive resume also includes being the youngest founding members of the US-China Committee, the young Ambassador, International Leadership Foundation; and the youngest members of the Leadership Council, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Additionally, Richard is the youngest member of Harvard 1879 Society.
‘Savvy investors’ is also an apt descriptor for Richard and Eric. From their father they learned investment strategies and their choice of stocks reflects their interest and passion.
“We started investing in 2009 and it’s been fun. I like cars and after doing research on automobile pioneers, I learned what Henry Ford did for everyday folks. I greatly respect him for that; so I put my money on Ford Motors. Eric invested in Bank of America because he wants to be a banker one day. Or maybe it’s because ‘Eric’ is in the bank’s name,” Richard says with a wink.
Richard’s and Eric’s investments have been growing but they aren’t merely sitting on their earnings. Instead, they put their money where their mouth is – they established funds and school endowments.
“In 2014 we gave our first gift to Clairbourn School. It is called ‘The Richard and Eric Dong Fund for Scholarship in Music and the Arts’ to show our respect, gratitude and friendship to the school and its amazing community. We’re adding $20K to the fund at the end of the year as a tribute to retiring headmaster, Dr. (Robert) Nafie,” disclose Richard and Eric.
Adds Richard, “In April this year we established our second endowment fund. We gave it to SMHS to support student scholarship, athletics, music and arts, student organizations, and faculty and staff appreciation in honor of retiring principal, Mrs. Mary Johnson. Our endowment is the first ever in SMHS’s history to be launched by current students.”
“Most recently we created the ‘Richard and Eric Dong Endowment at International Leadership Foundation’ in honor of Mr. Joel Szabat and Ms. Chiling Tong, the founders of ILF, for their strong leadership, dedication and commitment since 2000,” Richard states further. “The $100K fund will support ILF’s Program Scholarships, Leadership Training, and Global Democracy & Governance Initiatives especially in Asian countries.”
“Giving is woven in our family tradition,” reveals Richard. “My parents made gifts to schools to support education and we learned from them. The words of John F. Kennedy ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’ also strongly resonate with us. From our community service in ILF and internship with Congresswoman Judy Chu we learned the importance of philanthropy.”
Richard declares, “We believe this is the beginning of a long journey in our efforts to marshal students, parents, business leaders and entire communities in supporting education and leadership training for the next generation. Because, ultimately, WE – our generation and the ones after us – will reap the rewards of a bright future.”
“I want to follow in the footsteps of my great granduncle, Minister Hollington Tong, who was the first ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to Japan from 1952 to 1958, and the fifth ambassador to the United States from 1956 to 1958,” Richard pronounces. “My dream is to become a US ambassador and promote democracy, human rights, and American values throughout the world. I am especially interested in bringing these values to the people of China, and furthering US-China relations.”
As for Eric, “I do not plan to pursue politics beyond college; instead I want to be a successful businessman like my father to further establish endowments to sponsor education and leadership training. I also want to support Richard in his mission to serve this country – because I am confident the wonderful things he will achieve and accomplish are yet to come.”
Finally, Ed has this to say, “Richard has a strong mind, a warm heart, and a humble attitude – traits that will help him launch a political career. I believe he has the potential for public service and he has my best wishes. Eric, on the other hand, enjoys the intricacies of the business world. He has a huge talent in it and has the ability to become successful – the financial rewards from which he intends to give to deserving causes.
I would like them to be individuals who are inspiring, hard-working and ready to help. I want them to know the importance of purpose, principle and people; the value of responsibility and commitment; and, ultimately, to bring much good to their community and their country.”
Listening to Richard and Eric play the piano takes one soaring with the angels; hearing them enthuse about their plans for the future makes one reach for the stars. The emotions they spark in everyone are profound.
If they pursue their dreams with the same enthusiasm and vigor they demonstrate when they play the piano and articulate those aspirations, we all would be the lucky beneficiaries because the world would be a far better place.