“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Nestled between a Mexican fast food stand and a Vietnamese nail salon, my family’s restaurant in El Monte, California was where I got my first business education. I was the typical restaurant kid, helping my parents out after school by cleaning tables, sweeping floors, and finishing as much homework as I could while sitting between the soda machine and a mountain of takeout boxes.

Success was getting an education that would free me from what I thought were limits of my upbringing.

I’ve since earned an education that has far exceeded my childhood imagination – only to realize my greatest teachers were the small business owners in my restaurant plaza, immigrants who liked to say they bought themselves a job because no one else would hire them. They showed me the dignity of hard work through each nail filed, shirt laundered, and meal delivered, each small act lifting the arc of opportunities available for their children.

My Harvard education taught me to cherish these childhood lessons: the idea that no job is ever beneath you and the value of character, especially when you lack the privilege of reputation.

After years distancing myself from these roots, I now strive to return.

— Christine Keung