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Academy of Achievement: 2012 Student Letters
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Academy of Achievement: Student Letters

As a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Andrew Gruen won a National Science Foundation Fellowship for undergraduate research, which he used to explore the application of multimedia and semantic Web technology to the teaching of constitutional law at the website Oyez Supreme Court Multimedia. He graduated summa cum laude from the Medill School in 2007. As a Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, he is writing a doctoral dissertation on accountability journalism in the digital age. Since 2010, he has been a Visiting Scholar and General Manager of the Medill School's Informedness Center, where he is devising metrics for evaluating the social value of news and the relative viability of different information media.

November 7, 2012

Catherine B. Reynolds
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mrs. Reynolds,

Over the past few weeks, I've come back to Cambridge and had a chance to unpack a bit of what happened when we all gathered In Washington, D.C. for this year's Summit. And every time I think about it, I grow ever more thankful for your vision (and for you and your team's incredible execution of it) to put together such a mix of honorees and delegates.

Primarily, it seems to me that you both embody a way of life that I first heard as a quotation. The architect and planner of the city of Chicago at the turn of the 20th century, Daniel Burnham, said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work."

Without question, the Summit was, for me, an inflection point toward this motto.

When I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, just off the plane from pastoral Cambridge, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect. My mind was firmly focused on the minutiae of the appropriate order of chapters in my Ph.D. dissertation. But by the time Don Graham walked out to the podium at the Top of the Hay, I realized I would need to take my head out of the sand -- and quick. Over the next few days, there were memorable experiences coming every five minutes, but two conversations that took place on one evening deserve particular attention.

My night at the U.S. Capitol was incredible both professionally and personally.

Over dinner, I happened to sit next to Alice Antheaume. When I got to my room and started flipping through the iPad book, her name immediately popped out. Her writing is central to my life's work so far -- how we will maintain the outcomes of quality journalism, even if the institutions that once did it fade away -- and I knew I'd want to talk to her. What I didn't know is how much a few hours of conversation would expand my understanding of an entirely different press system, and offer new opportunities for learning.

I discovered that France has a hugely active ecosystem of what they call "pure players" that are doing quality journalism based only on the Web, directly answering my question of how new institutions would be built. And as a result of that conversation, I'm already heading to SciencesPo in early December. Not only will there be a team of thinkers attending the meeting whose names I've read again and again, but have never before had the chance to actually talk with, I'll be able to talk with them and get critiques on my work. Suddenly my research -- the tool I hope will help modern liberal democracies cope with radical change -- is getting way more scrutiny than I ever could have hoped for, and thus will be, I think, vastly better than I could have hoped just one month ago.

If meeting Alice and other delegates was incredibly fruitful, meeting the honorees was sublime and surreal. And the first story I told people about my time at the Summit was about our evening on the floor of the House of Representatives. After that conversation with Alice at dinner, I sat down in a seat three rows up from the dais just on the left side of the aisle. When Representative Markey told us the Inventor of the World Wide Web was there, my first reaction was disbelief. "Clearly, he doesn't know who actually invented it -- surely, he's going to bring out someone who was involved in the early policy of the DARPANET."

And then Sir Tim Berners-Lee stood up.

Suddenly, I was talking to a lifelong hero. A man who created the thing I use 18 hours a day; a thing that I have, in large part, devoted my life to using to improve the lives of others. And I wasn't just talking to him -- I was debating policy on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives with him, standing in front of an American flag that NASA brought back from the surface of the Moon. As Professor Berger taught us so much by way of a narrative, I hope my story of that single night helps explain the impact the Summit had on me.

Above all, I hope the Academy can continue to create such experiences for students far into the future -- and if there is ever anything I can do to help with the execution of your vision, don't hesitate to let me know.

Once again, thank you ever so much,

Andrew Gruen
Gates Scholar, Cambridge University
Visiting Scholar, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

After earning his undergraduate degree magna cum laude in mass communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ali M. Khan entered the joint M.D.-MPP program of Virginia Commonwealth and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He graduated from medical school in 2010 with honors in the practice of social medicine in underserved communities. A Public Service Fellow at Harvard, he was selected to participate in the Harvard Business School seminar in value-based health care delivery. In 2012, he received the Excellence in Medicine Leadership Award from the American Medical Association. He currently serves on the National Council of Associates of the American College of Physicians, and is completing his residency at Yale School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

November 15, 2012

Catherine B. Reynolds
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mrs. Reynolds,

I've been called many things in my life -- but a man of few words is not one of them.

Imagine my shock, then, at what I found upon my return to New Haven following the 2012 International Achievement Summit in Washington: countless failed attempts to describe my experience as a student delegate to my family and friends, each beset by the inability to convey how profoundly impactful this experience has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be. Words, it appears, have failed me.

Words are similarly inadequate to express my gratitude for your generosity in affording my fellow delegates and me such an exhilarating opportunity. With three weeks' time for reflection amid clinical commitments in Yale's intensive care units and medical wards, however, I feel compelled to write something -- anything -- to try and convey my gratitude to you.

When my cherished mentor, former Asst. Surgeon General Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, nominated me to attend the Summit as her delegate, I thought I knew what to expect, drawing on friends' tales of prior Summits and their remarkable encounters. As Admiral Blumenthal predicted, however, I had no idea what was coming. No one could have prepared me for such a compelling, insightful and deeply meaningful experience -- five days that could only be described as awe-inspiring. What I expected was a trip to the Washington, D.C. region -- my childhood home -- like any other. What I received was nothing short of transformative.

As I write this letter, I aim to highlight those moments that were most profound. Trying to select one particular moment to meet that task, however, strikes me as foolish at best, for the Summit's greatest gift is the cumulative sum of the experience -- its richness and its scope.

The moments I cherish most continue to flash before me: debating health reform with Francis Collins and Ben Carson, with the caveat of having to defend opposite sides of the political spectrum; embracing Kathleen Matthews and Donald Graham, two of my childhood heroes and role models during my former life as a print journalist; sitting in Rep. John Conyers's seat on the floor of the House of Representatives while witnessing a passionate debate about the role of government in technology innovation, one capped by Rep. Edward Markey's powerful rhetoric on the fundamental responsibility of government to advance the public good; climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under a sparkling night time sky to hear Chris Matthews's powerful defense of government in a partisan era; leaning forward with rapt attention as Louise Glück and Natasha Trethewey's eye-opening poetry was read aloud, their words battering my heart with each stanza; breaking bread and discussing the implications of American military budget cuts with Sec. Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus; joyfully reuniting with Admiral Blumenthal in the chambers of the Senate before a guided tour by none other than Trent Lott; dancing on stage with Colin Powell and Antonio Villaraigosa as Aretha Franklin's dulcet tones surrounded us; meeting Salman Khan and celebrating both a common surname and his phenomenal impact in educational delivery -- I could continue like this for pages more. To call this collective experience astonishing would be an egregious understatement.

Most striking, however, was our time at the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy and Sotomayor. During dinner, Justice Sotomayor leaned forward to admit to my three companions and me that the non-partisan, collaborative friendships she shares with her ideologically-distinct co-justices were centered on "a mutual respect for each other's dedication to the law and to public service" -- a valuable insight for these bitterly partisan times. She paired those words with a directive to ensure that sentiment's revival -- for the nation's future would depend on our generation's ability to do just that. Having just peppered Justice Sotomayor about the intricacies of the Court's recent decision on the Affordable Care Act and its societal implications in an admittedly partisan fashion, I initially found her challenge sobering -- and daunting. Amid her affectionate hug at dinner's end, however, she whispered that she knew we would be up to the task -- after all, she noted, "that's how you got here tonight -- and that's what you're going to do." I can think of no greater task ahead of us -- and the challenge is one that I eagerly anticipate.

Indeed, the quality of the company we kept during our time together cannot be understated. As an American Muslim, a former journalist and a physician intending a career at the intersection of medicine, human rights and public policy, I suspected that the Summit's focus on innovation and leadership in the Muslim world would provide valuable insight. I was nonetheless astonished to discover among my fellow delegates the diversity of experience in what Clayton Christensen would call "disruptive innovation," writ large.

Whether the platform was social media, the Arab Spring, the courtroom or the battlefield, each brought a wealth of passion, a deep-seated sense of purpose and an incredible intellect to the proverbial -- and literal -- table. Through countless discussions, conversations, debates and laughing fits, we sought out each other's counsel on issues as noble as First Amendment law and global health equity and as (refreshingly) normal as whether multiple rounds of dessert were contextually acceptable. Each night, I returned to my room in the wee hours of the morning, intellectually exhilarated and deeply humbled. Each morning, I awoke anew, ready to see what ideas -- and adventures -- would lie ahead. As I now work alongside other delegates on various joint collaborations, these discussions continue unabated. I already know that this discourse will shape my worldview for years to come -- and I am elated to have found such incredible partners on the path toward a life spent in the service of humanity. I would be remiss if I did not mention the flawless work done by the Academy's staff prior to, during or following the Summit. Their collective warmth, humor, professionalism and guidance provided the foundation upon which this phenomenal Summit was built. I intend to continue meaningful interaction with them -- and with the Academy itself -- in the months ahead, aiming to deepen and strengthen the bonds formed during these few days. After all, after an experience such as this, how could I not work to ensure a lifetime spent in such inspiring company?

Given the clarity the Summit has already provided as I prepare to emerge from residency training into the task of "getting my hands dirty" in advancing the human right to health, as Admiral Blumenthal described it, I can only hope to pay this immense debt forward -- by whatever means possible. That debt is one that I owe to many, with Admiral Blumenthal foremost on that list. Since our first interaction years ago, Admiral Blumenthal's model of a physician-leader in the public service, one committed to meaningful action across sectors, has motivated me to do better. Her steadfast belief in my potential -- as exemplified by her nomination to this Summit -- is incredibly humbling. I continue to look to her example as I work to ensure that this honor is ultimately deserved.

In closing, I must admit my incredulity as to why I, in the "first third of life" as delineated by David Rubenstein, have encountered such good fortune. It is my hope that this debt is one that I will repay in the decades ahead, via a combination of time, sweat, passion and sacrifice. I can think of no greater means by which to fulfill that debt -- and to fulfill the faith that others have afforded me.

Above all, however, that debt is one I owe to both you and Mr. Reynolds. Thank you, sincerely, for your generosity, your vision and your unyielding commitment to a higher purpose.

I sincerely hope our paths will cross again.

With gratitude and respect,

Ali Khan, M.D., MPP
Clinical Resident in Medicine
Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Yale School of Medicine

A graduate of the University of Nairobi with a degree in computer science, Philip Thigo was part of the team that computerized Kenya's election process for the first time. For six years he worked in the headquarters of Foundation El Taller in Tunis, Tunisia. As a coordinator for its international youth program, he organized efforts in ten countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. In 2007 he returned to Nairobi and joined the Social Development Network (SODNET) as Program Associate for Strategy and Partnerships. He co-founded the INFONET Innovation Program at SODNET, assisting NGOs in the adoption of new technology, and leading high-tech election observation efforts in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

November 9, 2012

Catherine B. Reynolds
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mrs. Reynolds,

Please receive my warm greetings from Nairobi, in the hope that this note finds you well.

I would like to express my profound gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the 50th Annual Academy of Achievement Summit last week. There are no words imaginable that can capture the invaluable experience, relationships and inspiration: perhaps befitting of these dark and dangerous times where the world has truly run out of its imagination.

After much reflection, I return to my work and colleagues with renewed strength, informed by a wealth of knowledge from different life journeys: poets, scientists, musicians, justices, techies, visionaries, venture capitalists and pilgrims of life.

The Academy was truly a celebration of life with one unique message: that the personal is indeed the political, humility, focus on the belief in making what may seem impossible possible, amid the noise and haste: to challenge the mind constructs that tell us we can't.

I come from people that understand the values of inclusion, for we are dawned by the burden of history that is tied to the notion of exclusion from opportunity. And for this, I say thank you for the invitation. Perhaps best expressed in words that resonate with my culture: Asante sana! and as my Arab friend would say, Thank you, for you.

Please also express my appreciation for the guiding lights, the whispers and ushers who pointed our way, even in those late nights. The quiet individuals working in the dark to make our stay comfortable. To all your team and staff, it was a joy to catch a glimpse where possible, an occasional smile and handshake.

In closing, I once met a lady from India who said she had a gift for me, that it cannot be touched, or carried, but can only be passed on from one person to another.

And this was the gift of new eyes. Thank you for the gift of new eyes, to see the world differently and to imagine the endless of possibilities.

With the very best of wishes,

Philip Thigo
Co-Founder, INFONET, Nairobi, Kenya

Prior to joining her present firm, Saritha K. Tice was counsel to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, and drafted portions of the commission's final report. A Harvard graduate, she received her law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2009. During law school, she interned in the office of the U.S. Solicitor General; afterward, she clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In 2011 she joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. She has represented clients ranging from a major telecommunications company and a private equity firm to a prison inmate pursuing retaliation claims against his guards. She has appeared as lead counsel in state and federal court, representing financial institutions and consumers in major financial fraud and deceptive trade practice cases. She also serves as an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School.

February 4, 2013

Catherine B. Reynolds
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mrs. Reynolds,

I wanted to send you my sincere thanks for hosting the International Achievement Summit and for allowing me to be a part of it. As I arrived at the Summit on Saturday morning -- fresh from a trial in Texas and not knowing what to expect -- I was delighted to sit down to a breakfast with a table full of brilliant people, excited to share their ideas and hear mine. The energy was instantly apparent, and my fellow delegates so warm and welcoming, that I immediately felt a part of a community of individuals whose common thread was to try and make a positive contribution to the world.

As the day went on and I had a chance to explore that community -- by listening to the poetry of Louise Glück, the scientific achievements of Roger Tsien, the life advice of David Rubenstein, the legal insights of Eric Holder, and many more -- I not only learned a great deal, I also felt inspired. That is so important.

As we each toil away in trying to become the best at what we do (for me, a lawyer in constitutional law and energy law), there is a risk of becoming tunnel-visioned because of our intense focus. And it is then that events like the Summit are so crucial to the cross-pollination of ideas and to keeping us inspired and creative. I am determined to hang on to that aspiration and keep in touch with those whom I met, and I sincerely hope (and expect) that our paths will cross again.

One of my most memorable Summit moments was sitting down to lunch with Dr. John Mather. Over the course of our conversation, I told Dr. Mather I had begun college wanting to go into astrophysics but then made a turn towards the law. In response, Dr. Mather said that he started out wanting to become a lawyer and instead ended up in astrophysics. That moment reminded me of the vast amount that the people across the sciences and humanities have in common and how important it is for us to maintain a continued dialogue across fields and specialties.

I trust that the Academy will continue to further that dialogue year after year, and I thank you again for all that you do for the Summit and the Academy.


Saritha Tice
Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, PLLC

A recipient of the Crown Prince of Bahrain's International Scholarship for study abroad, Khaled Baqer completed his secondary studies at the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, and competed in computer science as a member of New Jersey's Academic All-Star Team. He earned his undergraduate degree in computer science at Georgetown University, with electives in international affairs. He has acquired formidable expertise in information network security issues; following his graduation from Georgetown, he worked as head of information security for Aluminium Bahrain. He is now completing a master's in information technology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, with a curriculum focused on security issues.

November 9, 2012

Catherine B. Reynolds
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mrs. Reynolds,

I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the invitation to attend the International Achievement Summit and be part of this annual congregation of achievers. It was a privilege to be able to celebrate achievement, and I thank you for creating a memorable and life-changing experience.

Bringing some of the most accomplished individuals together, you have created a vast and effective network of innovators. Through the Summit I was able to exchange ideas, discuss current issues, dine with scientists and innovators, socialize with many individuals I consider pillars of technology, innovation and politics. I appreciate your philanthropic motivation, and I am inspired by it to be able to spread the ideas that inspired me throughout the Summit and act upon them, and to also give back to the community.

I consider the Summit a milestone to celebrate what Mr. Rubenstein referred to as the first third of our lives. The Summit has helped define my focus for the remaining two thirds, and as I always like to say, I am just getting started. The friendships you have enabled through this Summit will keep alive a vivid memory of those five eventful days in Washington, D.C.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to your team for their help and guidance throughout the Summit. Their attention to the smallest details and their utmost care enabled a smooth transition from various time zones. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for celebrating achievement and honoring young innovators. Thank you for creating an experience in the days many dream of for a lifetime. You have positively influenced my career, for that I am grateful, and I know ninety other troublemakers who share the same feeling.

Yours sincerely,

Khaled A. Baqer
Crown Prince's International Scholar, Monash University