Anderson Cooper Advocates for Student at ROMBA Conference
Ahead of announcing our keynote speaker for the 2018 ROMBA Conference, we sat down and interviewed a student who had an interesting experience at the 20th Gala Celebration. During a Q&A with Anderson Cooper, he got up and asked a him a question which led to a heartfelt encounter.
During the 20th Gala Celebration at the 2017 ROMBA Conference, attendees were treated to a keynote speech by Anderson Cooper. Touching on aspects of his personal and professional life, Anderson spoke about people he has interviewed and the impact their lives have made on him. When the time for audience questions came, one student from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College stood up and began speaking, which would later turn into very meaningful conversation. Andrew is a MD/MBA student with plans to do a residency in dermatology after graduation. He’s interested in fixing problems in the healthcare system, specifically how data is organized and used in clinical roles. Reaching Out spoke with him over the phone to learn more about his experience.
Was this your first time attending ROMBA?
Yes it was, I had never heard about it before. I received an email from the Tuck Pride Club which let us know that the event was happening and that people said they had a great experience at last year’s conference in Dallas. We were lucky that the conference was in Boston which is pretty close, so at least a dozen or so of us went. Considering how small Tuck is, that’s a large group.
Tell us about your experience at the conference.
Being part of the LGBTQ community is such a strong shared experience that it isn’t easy to describe what it’s like being in the environment of ROMBA. I thought that going to ROMBA would be a great opportunity to meet people in different industries and MBAs across the country. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, so I’m used to having a large LGBTQ social group. I love Tuck, but there are so few of us. That lifestyle is not comparable in a place like Hanover, New Hampshire. I had to remember that most of the people there identified as LGBTQ, and when I remembered that it struck me as something very remarkable. As much as I want to be myself in all situations, I feel a bigger freedom in talking certain things when people around me have gone through the process of coming out. It’s liberating in a certain sense.
Were there any sessions that stood out to you?
I’m focused in health care, so I went to a lot of the healthcare coffee chats. I also really liked the lunch with Martine Rothblatt since I’m very interested in transgender healthcare and how the role of doctor-patient interactions is changing. The social events were nice too; I was invited to McKinsey’s networking session which ended up being a comfortable environment for meeting other students.
In addition to being part of the LGBTQ community, are there other groups you identify with?
I am a Korean-American man, born in the US. My parents are also very Americanized but are tied to aspects of being a Korean-American that are closed off to the LGBTQ community. They’re still very involved in church where messages there portray LGBTQ people in a negative light. They’ve seen people ostracized from Korean and church communities, including myself.
Could you tell us about your experience of coming out?
I had come out to my parents maybe a year or two before Anderson Cooper publicly came out. It was a difficult conversation to have. We never talked much about it, but when we did it was always tearful. They asked me to reconsider my sexuality and tried to set me up with girls. Much like Anderson’s mother said to him, my parents said that I should not be so definitive, that I should be more open-minded.
When my mom opened up a conversation starting with her surprise that Anderson came out, I told her that I always knew. She said “I guess that gay people can be respected and successful.” Up until that point because of what she saw of Koreans and Korean-Americans, she believed that being gay was a barrier, which does have some historical truth. When she realized that who you are might be okay, and that there are famous and well-respected people who are just like you and turn out fine, that was a big turning point in our conversations.
What did you say when you got the microphone?
I told him that I was a big fan and thanked him for being out and proud because it meant a lot to me personally. I said that my parents hadn’t been accepting of me being gay but were beginning to be okay with it after learning that he came out. When I made those remarks to Anderson, I got very emotional because it reminded me of those talks with my parents.
Anderson said that if you found him afterwards, he would Facetime with your mom. Did he do it?
I was sitting with my friend Lindsey who also goes to Tuck, and I don’t know who found me, but someone from Reaching Out said that Anderson was looking for me which was a great sentence to hear. Because I’m from Los Angeles, I’m used to being around or seeing famous people, so my first reaction was just to interact with him like I would with anyone else. I told him that my mom didn’t want to Facetime because her hair was in rollers, so he recorded a video for her instead. He was very sweet and joked around, announcing that we were going to get married. It was such a genuine experience and made me realize that someone’s notoriety or public status doesn’t matter, it’s the experience of being LGBTQ that humanizes and bonds us.
What did you learn from that experience?
That whole week was a very happy week for me. I don’t know how to put it into words really; it’s the first time that I met somebody who meant that much to me and had such a direct impact on my life. In a way it was empowering, I left feeling very happy and also got a ton of questions from my Tuckies.
Besides being a really cool experience, it gave me a lead-in to conversations about coming out in a comfortable way. School had just started and I hadn’t had that conversation with most of my classmates yet. Everyone was really supportive when I came out.
I think it also in a way opened a door for me personally, in terms of helping me realize what kind of impact I want to have on society. I guess that was my first time speaking publicly about being gay, and it made me realize how powerful it is to share that part of yourself with strangers. It helped me reflect on more of my potential role as a gay American, especially in the medical field which can be very conservative. I guess it was also a good way to illustrate that my natural inclinations are okay and will allow me to have great experiences. It was a good reminder to be brave and fearless.