Garland Tang Beats the Odds
Despite his strong academic performance, attending a highly rated liberal arts college was never a foregone conclusion for incoming Occidental frosh Garland Tang.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Tang, of Honolulu, assumed he’d end up enrolling at the University of Hawaii because of his family’s limited finances.
The picture changed when Tang entered the eighth grade. That’s when the Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation named him one of 34 inaugural “Young Scholars,” a designation that brings with it a financial award of up to $300,000 for high-achieving and financially needy students who want to pursue a college education. After five years of secrecy – and steady academic nurturing of the scholars – the foundation announced the names of the recipients this summer.
“Being a Young Scholar has taught me about the world outside Hawaii,” said Tang, who recently graduated from Iolani School in Honolulu. The foundation was tipped off to Tang’s promise when, as a seventh grader, he scored highly on the SAT. The foundation encouraged him to apply for the Young Scholars Program.
Tang chose Occidental not just for its relative proximity to home, but also because of the college’s big-city locale, its small size and the opportunity for students to work closely with professors. “My college counselor also said it’s a really good place to start undergraduate premed,” Tang said.
He’s considering a career in pediatrics after having volunteered at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. “I was a play room supervisor – that’s where sick kids and their siblings go to play,” Tang said. “It really affected me to be able to help them and see them happy.”
Tang said his parents regard education as one of a person’s most valuable assets. His mother and father emigrated from Canton, China, to Hawaii to start a family and ensure a better future for their two sons. Because of China’s Cultural Revolution, the couple were never able to secure a formal education. That only hardened their resolve. Tang’s mother, a hotel housekeeper, and father, a cook at a Chinese restaurant, taught Garland advanced algebra when he was in seventh grade.
The experience paid off. Tang joined the Iolani math team as a ninth grader, helping the squad to win a state championship. Tang demonstrated “excellent analytic and problem-solving skills,” according to Iolani math teacher Michael Park. “He’s a highly motivated young man with an excellent attitude and work ethic.” Tang also enjoys playing the violin and swimming.
In preparation for starting college, the foundation pays for its Young Scholars to enroll in college classes while still in high school. Others, such as those with a yen for the arts, might receive tickets to plays or a slot in an acting class. In the summer after his junior year, Tang completed biology and economics courses at Boston University.
Tang said he is embarking on his college career with his parents firmly in mind. “I want to give them a better life,” he said.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a private, independent foundation established in 2000 to help young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education. Jack Kent Cooke was a businessman and philanthropist who owned the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Redskins, as well as the Chrysler Building in New York City. When he died in 1997, he left most of his fortune to establish the foundation.