Harvard Business School 30th Reunion - Reflections: Elaine L. Chao
Given by Secretary Elaine Chao on July 1, 2009 at the Harvard Business School 30th Reunion
Our 30th reunion! How time flies! I still remember how excited my family and I were to learn that I was admitted to HBS.
Much has happened since our last reunion. The most significant in my life has been the passing of my beloved mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, on August 2, 2007 after a valiant seven year battle with lymphoma. She displayed such courage, strength, and faith – it was her last lesson to her daughters. She received her diagnosis on the same day as the announcement of my nomination as Labor Secretary on January 11, 2001. Amidst the excitement, she said nothing, not wanting to spoil the moment for her family. She attended my swearing-in at the Oval Office the week she began her chemotherapy treatments. Despite the wrenching side effects, nothing was going to keep her away. I am very fortunate, I realize, that my parents have been able to share so much of my adult life. In the last two years of my mother’s life, I tried to spend as much time with her as my job permitted and as her treatments allowed. During this time, I learned so much more about her. What she experienced in her lifetime reminded me constantly of the courageous, strong, independent and selfless person she was. Like many Chinese of the 20th century, my parents’ lives from an early age in their native land were marked by societal upheaval, economic hardships, civil war, and foreign invasion. To live was a gift. All they sought was security and peace. They met when my mother was fleeing from the foreign invaders. The civil war intervened and the budding sweethearts were separated. In the ensuing years, they endured many years of involuntary separation, including three long years when my father came to America alone to seek a better life for us while we waited behind in Asia. Our initial years in America were very tough. She was selfless in supporting her family in every way possible to enable us to achieve our dreams; she is the foundation of our family. Among the tributes to her, the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Building at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Mulan Maritime Simulation Memorial Center at Shanghai Maritime University were dedicated in her memory. Despite seeing the worst of humanity, my parents never lost their optimism, hopeful nature, and belief in the goodness of others. They are truly inspirational.
Since leaving the Labor Department, I’ve returned to The Heritage Foundation as a Distinguished Fellow. I’ve signed on as a Fox News Contributor and have an agent, Keppler Associates, that manages my speeches. Thinking I would have plenty of time, I agreed to chair four charitable events including one for First Lady Michelle Obama in May. I took some time this Spring to work with students at the Harvard Kennedy School on the issues of presidential transitions and interactions between the executive and legislative branches, very timely topics, as you can imagine. I’m also organizing my papers which will be archived at the McConnell Center for Leadership at the University of Louisville.
As of this writing, I am preparing to leave for China on a pilgrimage with my father to visit for the first time my mother’s native province, Anhui, and Yellow Mountain, a beautiful mystical place near her birthplace.
Because of my husband’s current position, I am somewhat limited in what I can do but I am looking forward to this new chapter in my life and to continue to try to make a difference. There is much to be grateful. Mitch and I are looking forward to seeing everyone at the Reunion!