I started the week in Los Angeles at the Shell Eco-marathon where 20 Universities from North America were competing in a challenge to see who could make a car that could go the most miles per gallon. Each school had a different story; the hydrogen group was there with their teacher, Robert Franz, who had told them he would shave his mustache off if his team went through every safety, fueling and driving test, getting it right the first time. The solar group had a father and son team involved, the father has been on a similar team 35 years ago when he was in school. By the time I left Los Angeles I was really impressed with the high school and college kids that had worked so hard to be the best they could be as their car went over the finish line. As David Sexton, President, Shell Oil USA, said, “This is about the kids and the new technology they bring to the competition.”
I was just leaving for Korea when I heard that a young kid had killed 33 University kids. My first thought went to the kids I had just left. It would be twenty hours before I would know more.
I then flew off to Korea to talk to the Vice Chairman of Hyundai and the President of Research and Development, but during that time we also got to see a concept that didn’t look like a Hyundai and a fuel cell that Hyundai will be bringing out in 2010. Young Korean men and women that looked like they had recently graduated gave the presentations. And after each presentation, they gave you could see that they were so happy that the presentation they had given in English was over and they had done it.
After the presentations, I returned to the hotel. I was learning more about the killings and was told, quietly, that it was one Korean teenager that had killed all 32 of the Virginia Tech University teenagers and teachers and injured more.
We questioned why the Koreans were so upset. Cho was born in Korea, but he had lived in America for more years than he had lived in Korea and was going to the University of Virginia. We were told that Koreans feel a cultural connection, almost a moral responsibility. Koreans were proud of Tiger Woods when he acknowledged his Korean heritage and Michelle Wee when she became famous for her golf game.
On Friday -which was Thursday in the United States – pictures of Cho and the manifesto, or rantings, started appearing in Korean American print and on Korean TV. The same day that those articles appeared, so did an article talking about a deal struck between Korean students to work with U.S. students on higher technology issues.
That same day one of the parents of a victim came on TV and asked that the pictures of Cho stopped being spread around, that Cho was becoming the center of attention.
Almost instantly, the pictures of Cho stopped on Korean TV and none appeared in the Korean American newspapers. They were replaced with pictures of teenagers from Virginia in mourning, Koreans placing flowers and lanterns being lit by Monks with the names of all the teenagers on each one.
Mental illness and severe depression are not exclusive to race or gender. What is more universal, and should be celebrated, is the pride of teenagers when they are doing what they love, when they are sharing their intellect with other young men and women who have a common interest. Within the last week, that was seen in both the United States and Korea.