“I spent a lot of time studying in high school—it was part of my job,” recalls Jee Park, who was the class valedictorian and bestowed with the senior superlative “Most Likely to Succeed.”
At college at M.I.T., though, several things changed Park’s life. First, her luggage was lost en route to Boston—a blessing in disguise, she now says. “It was my chance to start a whole new image—What kind of clothes do I want to have? What kinds of clothes do I want to wear?” And second, Park, who is Korean, found a sizable Asian population at M.I.T. “I didn’t have that kind of environment growing up in Deerfield. It was pretty isolating in our class.”
After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Park found the job market for engineers particularly tight. She took a job as a high-school math teacher in suburban New Jersey. Four years later she decided to move to California with her then boyfriend. She settled in San Francisco and taught math for three more years at a high school in the Haight-Ashbury district. Then one day, Park says, she realized: “I’ve been teaching for seven years—either I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, or try something else.” So she got her master’s in education at Stanford. But Park apparently had a knack for veering away from her degree subject. She landed a job at Yahoo!, where she spent four and a half years designing graphic user interfaces. Single and still living in San Francisco, she now works as an interaction designer at the wireless company Qualcomm.
Asked if she thinks she has changed much since high school, Park says that, if anything, she has shed her more timid personality and opened up her social side. She surfs, she blogs, she travels. She’s a foodie and an art connoisseur. “The me in high school was probably more serious,” says Park. And does she feel as if she has met the lofty expectations of her old classmates? To that question, Park is circumspect: “I don’t know that I have necessarily succeeded; it depends on what your measure is. I am definitely very happy, though.”