This weekend, I went to the Milken Scholars Summit, a three-day meeting of current and alumni students who are part of the Milken Scholarship program. I was accepted into the program when I was a high school graduate about to embark on the next chapter in my life.
The scholarship does more than provide money – it truly is a family of support. After my inaugural summit in 2013, I was unable to attend the past two summers because I was abroad, but since I am in D.C. this summer, I was finally able to attend!
This Summit’s theme was “The New City” and centered on our visions for the future of what urban life could look like. The Summit was a packed weekend of professional sessions, keynote speeches, and team-building activities. The central session of the Summit was “The New City Puzzle”.
In this session, all scholars were evenly split into “planning committees” that designed an innovative idea for an issue, like education or sanitation, that affects the city. Our planning committee proposed a new way of community policing, since that is such a pertinent problem right now.
The Summit was very intellectually stimulating. I loved hearing from one of our keynote speakers, Robin Chase, who is the co-founder of Zipcar. In her speech titled “Time for Disruption: How People and Platforms are Reinventing Capitalism,” Robin spoke about a new paradigm that was changing the way people consume and produce services and goods, but also the way that people interact with businesses, local government, and each other. She called it PEERS INC: PEERS (collaboration and social media and personal networks) and INC (government, legal structures, business) working together like “yin and yang.”
Robin said that Zipcar had been so successful because of excess capacity, a scenario when an industry is producing at a lower scale of output than what is possible. In Zipcar’s case, the auto industry had a ton of excess capacity. People would buy a car that would take up almost 20% of their income but drove less than 10% of their time. On the other hand, renting would be an expensive, full-day ordeal when you only needed the car for 2 hours.
Zipcar was able to disrupt the auto industry because Robin recognized the needs of consumers that were not being met. Furthermore, Robin stressed the point that in building Zipcar, she was occupied with making a business that treated people like co-creators, not simply consumers.
Another amazing speech I heard over the weekend was by Damien Dwin, the co-founder and co-CEO of an asset management firm that is dedicated to investing in middle-market U.S. businesses, including and especially those run by minorities and women. As a successful black businessman, Damien gave insightful advice on staying grounded, being generous to all, and valuing the process over outcomes.
He also stressed the importance of diversity as an “asset” in the workplace. “Will you be apologetic for your diversity or will you stand up and deliver for the country you love, as the person you are?” was the question he asked to the crowd. “You must be great,” he answered for us.
The Summit was also heavily centered on mentorship. I received great advice from two former law school students who are now practicing law, one in civil rights and the other in corporate law.
And for the first time, I was assigned a mentee, Amanda, a new scholar who will be attending Harvard in the fall as a freshman. She is also from Los Angeles and is interested in majoring in Sociology or Social Studies. I hope to put in all my effort in guiding her through the challenging first year!
The best part of the Summit is not the panels or the speeches. It’s the community. We participated in team-building activities, like Friday’s Open Mic Night, where scholars showcased their talent in singing, poetry, dance, a cappella, and comedy.
I myself read aloud two poems that I love: “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith and “Love Sonnet XVII” by Pablo Neruda. And at night – into the early morning – we played mafia and shared stories that we had collected over the school year, ones we were ready to retell during this magical weekend over the summer.