Congratulations to 2014 ATG Scholarship Finalists

After weeks of reviewing and deliberation, The ATG Scholarship Committee is proud to announce the 2014 Scholarship Finalists. We scored them based on GPA, leadership/community involvement, portfolio/video submission, essay and letters of recommendation. This group in particular is one of the strongest groups we’ve ever had. They are brilliant, shining examples of what it means to go Against The Grain means. Drumroll, please…

Vanessa Agovida
Vanessa Agovida

20 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Filipino; Attending Fordham University majoring in English/Communication and Media Studies

Vanessa is a first generation Filipino-American, actress, and romantic from Linwood, New Jersey. She graduated from Mainland Regional High School in 2012, ranking third in her graduating class and winning Departmental Honors for both English and the Performing Arts–funnily enough, her two biggest areas of focus at college. As a rising junior, she studies within Fordham University’s prestigious honors program, which accepts just thirty-some students from each entering class.

Vanessa’s passion for performing began with a simple love for stories, and her years as a bookworm provided the foundation for her acting pursuits in high school and beyond. At Fordham, she continues to perform in various student groups. With The Mimes and Mummers, for example, she has gotten the opportunity to act under the direction of New York City professionals in roles like Annabella/Margaret/Pamela in The 39 Steps and Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde. Vanessa is also a tutor, an admissions ambassador, an executive board member for her a cappella group, the Fordham Hot Notes and a founding member of Fordham’s first slam poetry club. (In other words, she keeps busy.)

One of her most recent projects was Mine, a short film that she helped write and act in for a national student film competition called Campus MovieFest. At Fordham’s festival, she won Best Actress out of over 100 film submissions. A few weeks later, Mine became one of four Campus MovieFest National Wild Card finalists, earning it a screening in Hollywood. The film has also been featured by and several domestic violence prevention groups such as The White Ribbon Campaign and End Violence Against Women International. This experience has motivated Vanessa to continue looking for ways to create compelling stories that both entertain and inspire.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain is all about discomfort. Humans tend to seek familiarity, and for good reason: it’s comfortable. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with wanting to be comfortable. But the people who make a tangible difference in society, the people who inspire, the pioneers–none of them got to be that way because they did what was expected of them, or what others wanted for them. To get anything done, and done exceptionally well, inevitably entails “going against the grain”–that is, doing what no one else has the courage or patience to do all because you believe in yourself and in your work.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain by seeking out creative challenges that scare me, even when they don’t appear to set me up for a traditional career path. For example, this fall I’m studying abroad at an acting conservatory in London, despite the fact that the program contributes very little toward my major course requirements. I ultimately decided to join the program–a program filled with actual acting majors who know far more than I do, because I know it will help me become a braver, more confident person.

As an Asian American actor, it’s hard not to become discouraged before I even get to an audition. When I go for certain roles, part of me tries to psych myself out because I don’t look the part. The fact is, the characters I grew up with on television and in the movies have very rarely looked like me. I go against the grain, however, by continuing to fight for (and sometimes win) roles that Asian women do not traditionally get to play and by striving to someday create stronger, more complex roles for Asians in mainstream media.

Sara Chan
Sara Chan


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Japanese/Chinese; Will attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to major in Theatre/Acting

Sara Emiko Chan was born in Sacramento, California and has always had a passion for acting, music and theatre. Her interest in the performing arts was partially influenced by her father’s fascination in learning American culture from films after immigrating from Hong Kong and also by her mother’s childhood experiences with dance, piano and guitar.  From a young age, Sara enjoyed dancing around the house and singing songs from movies and was often reciting entire scenes from television and film.  These natural talents led her towards finding a place in local companies such as River City Theatre Company and Studio24, where she could develop her acting and performance skills further.  Sara’s passion for the performing arts was so strong that she wanted to share this love with the younger generation. This led her to becoming a production assistant her senior year of high school in the local children’s theater company, Young Actors Stage, where she was able to combine her love of working with young children and the opportunity to teach dance, vocals and acting.

Not only is she serious about her time spent performing, Sara is also a very dedicated student.  Having graduated with high honors from C.K. McClatchy High School in the HISP (Humanities and International Studies) program and achieving a ranking in the top 5% of her class, Sara has always been devoted to working hard in the classroom as well as outside of school, volunteering her time in the community.  She has received lifetime membership in the California Scholarship Federation, was treasurer of the National Honors Society and co-president of the CKM Make-A-Wish Club.  She also was awarded the title of January Zonta Girl from the Zonta International Club’s Sacramento Chapter and is also a recipient of a Tisch Scholarship from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Sara wants to continue pursuing acting and the arts, looking past the obstacles that the competitive entertainment business may pose for Asian Americans.  She will be majoring in theatre/acting at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in the Fall of 2014, and cannot wait to take on the adventures that New York and the larger world of theatre has to offer!

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

For me, going Against The Grain means to have the confidence to stand up for what one believes in and be willing to fight any obstacles that are stacked against you with complete and total confidence.  I believe it means I must be strong and truly believe in myself if I want to change something for the better, even though it may involve going against the norm.  Believing that I can make that type of change will not only help me to succeed but will also make a positive difference in the lives of others.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I’ve always faced the criticism that because of my Asian heritage and how I look, I’m not going to make it in the entertainment industry as an actress, or at least I won’t get very far.  But I don’t see my heritage as a hindrance; rather, I see it as a trademark, and something that will help me stand out uniquely amongst the existing pool of actresses. Regardless of what others might have to say, I have always pushed through cultural stereotypes to get to where I am, both as a person and as an actor.  I have been chosen for acting roles I could only dream of, achieving praise that has not only helped me personally but has also helped others push past the barriers of seeing only my ethnicity.  Being an actress that happens to be Asian has helped me realize that it is not how you look or where you come from that gets you the part, but how dedicated you are to your craft and how much you are willing to work for it.  This attitude has helped others see me differently, and it has changed how I see and believe in myself.

Clare Davis
Clare Davis


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Korean; Will attend Florida State University to major in Studio Art

As a young girl, I was a maverick child, full of wildly creative energy and set on doing things on my own. I was going to accomplish the fifty tasks I had set for myself in one go, and what’s more, I was going to be the center of attention while I did it. In my early teenage years, I became more thoughtful, more focused on my academics and on what was happening around me. I began to understand how the world worked, or at least how other people seemed to think it worked. I had a logical solution for just about everything, and I became known as the girl with whom it was impossible to have an argument. Later in high school, it became clearer that everything was not as black and white as I had previously thought. I settled somewhere between the abundant creativity of my younger self and the infallible analysis of my middle school years. and from this spot, I realized that there was a lot more that I had to understand. So, in short, much has changed. But there is one thing that has remained consistent over the years. And it is this:

I am a doer. I am not one to sit around and wait for opportunity to waltz its way into my lap. No, I get up, and I go out, and I look for it. After all, while I may not be successful at everything I do, I will most certainly not succeed in something which I have not even tried. And genius being 99% perspiration, I often find that the important things get done, once I put in some effort. But then the question remains: What is important? When I was younger it was having fun, and I surely did that. Later it was getting good grades, and in this too, I invested my fullest energy, entering the Academy of International Cambridge Examinations (AICE) and pouring hours and hours of time into my studies. It paid off, and I graduated with the insignia of the National Honor society and three pins on my AICE stole that said ‘National Art Honor Society President,’ ‘National Merit Commended Scholar,’ and ‘Eighth in a class of six hundred.’ I carry two diplomas now, one from my high school and one that came from overseas, delivered for successful completion of the AICE program. In my personal life, my art was the most important thing, and I practiced every day for four years, and for my pains I came away with two Silver Keys from the National Art and Writing Regional Competition. They sit on the shelf in my room, identical bits of metal that twinkle next to a plaque that awards me the Yale Book Award from the Yale Alumni of Northeast Florida.

And now, I am older, and what is important to me is suddenly not just important to me anymore. Because now I am an artist, and as such I have a special ability to influence and change society and to speak out Against The Grain. So I am going to Florida State University, and I am learning even more about myself and about other people, and I am acquiring the tools and knowledge to affect change. If life were a video game, this is the level right before the first boss, where the game is set to easy mode and I’m stocking up on equipment. It’s only going to get harder from here. But I am ready and I am capable; the world should keep an eye on me, because as it turns out, maybe I didn’t change as much as I thought, and this is one maverick child that won’t be stopped.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To go Against The Grain is to be different but not separate. It is to be unique and unconventional but not isolated. Going Against The Grain means more than just being special; it means setting an example and setting a goal: to change society, to change minds, to change people and their notions about what is acceptable and about what can be achieved.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain in my mindset and in my actions. I am an individualist who believes that a person’s worth cannot be judged by their appearance. I am a feminist who believes in the importance of equality for all. I am a minority who knows that the media needs more diversity and not just in race. But above these things I am also a storyteller and an artist, someone who is working towards changing society and its ideals. I am a part of the voice that speaks out and say that it isn’t right for girls to grow up with stories that lack diverse characters and to think that they have to be pretty or thin or fair to be the protagonists of their own realities. We need new stories, and I aim to tell them. And if I can convince even one little girl or boy that he or she is worth more than what the television set says, then I have succeeded in making a difference and in going Against the Grain.

Megan Dung
Megan Dung


18 years-old, 3.7 GPA, Japanese/Chinese/Korean; Will attend Chapman University to major in Vocal Performance

My name is Megan Hi’ilani Dung, and I am a recent graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. I have been a part of 21 productions in the past six years and am in love with the stage. I started performing with my church, New Hope Oahu, and slowly expanded my repertoire through performing at school and within the community. I have been a recipient of the Actor Award from Punahou School in 2013 and 2014 and was a part of the musical theatre troupe, the Diamond Head Shooting Stars, from 2010 to 2013. I started training intensively for voice in 2009, acting in 2010 and dance in 2012.

Aside from my theatre life, I am your average eighteen year-old, keeping busy and living a fun-filled and successful life. On top of dance classes, I enjoy keeping myself in shape through figure skating. I have been figure skating for the past ten years and have loved every bit of it. It’s a great way to have fun and get in shape without sweating a whole lot. Currently, I am working at Kate Spade Saturday and will be attending Chapman University in the Fall.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

It is easy to go through life accepting society’s rules and regulations, while disregarding our own thinking. Going Against The Grain is having the confidence to live out your dreams. Being an Asian American performer in the world of musical theatre has its challenges, but I have been blessed with abundant opportunities and an incredible support system to help me succeed. When auditioning for a musical, there are different requirements set for each character. There are requirements for vocal range, dance ability, acting ability and often times ethnicity. Many musicals call for people of other ethnicities other than Asian American; yet, I still audition, regardless of the ethnicity requirement. This mindset of going Against The Grain has allowed me to push past my own fears of being turned away and awarding me with incredible roles from timeless musicals.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

Hawaii is filled with amazing performers. Our “melting pot” of a community allows people of all different ethnicities to succeed in the theatre world. It is common to see Asians, Filipinos, Latinos, Europeans, Hawaiians and African Americans sharing the stage. Living in a community like this all of my life has helped my confidence grow as an Asian American performer. Even as a little girl, when I saw someone on stage who looked like me, my confidence level would sky rocket. As I grew up and started to audition for roles, I soon realized that when it came to being cast in a show, being Asian American was not easy. Knowing that my particular “look” may not perfectly fit in certain roles, I try to keep myself in tip-top shape through taking voice lessons, dance classes, acting classes and getting involved in as many productions as I can. I definitely call myself lucky as I live in a beautiful community of confident and talented people who are willing to go Against The Grain.

Daniel Kim
Daniel Kim


18 years-old, 3.9 GPA, Korean; Will attend Columbia University to major in Music

Daniel Kim is a graduate from the Elizabeth Mandell Music Institute of Crossroads School in Santa Monica. He has been studying the piano since the age of five under the instruction of Mary Ann Cummins.

Over the years, Daniel has received 1st place in the Music Teacher’s Association of California State Concerto Competition, Grand Prize winner of the Korea Times Music Competition, Grand Prize winner of the Palisades Symphony Alfred Newman Memorial Scholarship Competition and First Place winner of the Brentwood Symphony Artists of Tomorrow Competition. Daniel has also soloed with numerous orchestras including the Palisades Symphony, Brentwood Symphony and Doctors Symphony. In 2012, Daniel Kim performed in concert with the Chung Trio (Kyung Wha Chung, Myung Whun Chung and Myung Wha Chung) in Seoul, South Korea.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain means forgoing the common path and marching to one’s own beat. Though doing so may cause discomfort and create questions (from within and without), choosing to go Against The Grain promotes a happier, more fulfilling life.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

My teacher once told me, “God has given you a talent in music to be a blessing to others; it is up to you to develop that talent to its fullest potential.” I have taken these words to heart and have strived to develop and hone my musical ability — painstakingly practicing five hours daily, entering countless competitions and participating in numerous music festivals and studying the greats to gain a breadth of musical knowledge. I could choose the safe route and pursue a reliable, secure career in a common field; I am actively choosing to travel the proverbial “road less traveled” in becoming a musician.

Lauren O'Brien
Lauren O’Brien


18 years-old, 4.0 GPA, Chinese Adoptee; Will attend Montclair State University to major in Dance with a minor in Arts Management

My name is Lauren O’Brien and if you look at my name, I’m not what I appear to be. Instead of this red-haired, freckle-faced girl, I have the polar opposite traits, because I’m an adoptee from Shijiazhaung, Hebei, China. For the past 18 years, I have been here in America. I’ve spent 15 years pursuing my passion: dance. But I started my dance career only because my mom wanted me to get involved with something. Well who knew that dancing recreationally would become a passion that would lead me to regional and national competitions winning first place awards, overall titles, and invitations and scholarships to national competition?  And after I was done with the competition life, I was offered a chance to dance with the Koresh Youth Ensemble, a secondary company to the prestigious Koresh Dance Company in Philadelphia. I have been trained by many of the company members including the artistic director, Ronen Koresh. Even with all this dancing, I manage to keep my grades up, and I have been recognized on the Principal’s List since sixth grade. I also graduated high school as a member of the National Technical Honor Society and the National Honor Society and received the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.

While balancing a rigorous dance schedule along with my honors school work, one would think that my schedule is packed to the maximum and I couldn’t add another thing. But I did. This past year I found a new passion of volunteering with Quixote Quest. For many years, I’ve had this dream of inspiring someone to do their best in everything, and I was offered the chance to do that. Every Saturday during the 2013-2014 school year, a group of South Jersey teens and I mentor and tutor inner-city children. But this group of teens doesn’t stop at just helping under-privileged children; we go beyond that by also volunteering at animal shelters, nursing homes for patients with dementia and helping children with disabilities on horses. I created a bond with these teens and children unlike my relationship with friends. We are all trying to improve the world for everyone and the kids have given me a responsibility like no other. We are helping these kids realize their fullest potential by not only helping them academically but also with cognitive skills they will need for their future. Volunteering has offered me so many new experiences, and I have been lucky enough to have been awarded the President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award for 200 hours of service for the 2013-2014 school year, the Pat Tillman award dedicated to the fallen soldier for going above and beyond, and many other little awards for participation in the club. I plan to keep in touch with both the volunteer group and the teens and children I volunteered with during college.

I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of two top quality organizations, like the Koresh Youth Ensemble and Quixote Quest, while earning high honors at one of the top rated high schools in New Jersey. I’ve worked very hard to excel at everything I do and I’m very gratified to receive the rewards that my hard work has produced.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Every day, young adults are challenging the norms that have been set by society. With these stereotypes you can either follow them like everyone else or be different and stand out from the crowd. Going Against The Grain means that you are choosing to be different but more importantly, choosing to be yourself. One doesn’t need to follow society’s rules to live their life, and one shouldn’t have to let that be the deciding factor on what their life should be.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

By following a career in dance, I am going Against The Grain not only because dance is a strenuous career but also because I’m a minority. In my previous training, I was the only minority in my dance group. However, I didn’t let that stop me from dancing. The number of Asians in the arts during 2011-2012 was “3% and only ¼ of those roles were on Broadway” (Maier, 2013). When you look at pictures of ballerinas and other dancers, they all look the same. But sometimes, you’ll find the dancers who look different and challenge the original look of the dance world. Over time, more dancers who do not look the “normal part” are starting to appear in professional dance companies and other dance related events. They probably faced dilemmas where they did not look the part and turned down, but did that stop them from doing what they love? Dance is an art form that shows the audience what the dancer and choreographer feel need to be showcased. When the dancer is able to captivate the audience with the emotion of the piece, then the true job of a dancer is done. With my dancing, I want to show people my love of dance and how I use it to express myself. While many dancers choose to follow the traditional styles or techniques of classic choreographers like Graham, Balanchine or Humphrey, I strive to create my own style by sampling from the masters and my teachers. I hope to inspire a new generation of dancers. Everyone deserves the chance to follow their dreams and shouldn’t let hindrances like race and ethnicity stop them.

Michael Madrid
Michael Madrid


21 years-old, 3.93 GPA, Filipino/Caucasian; Will attend University of Cambridge or Stanford University to obtain a Masters of Philosophy in Technology Policy

Although born in Los Angeles, California, I grew up in Zambia, Africa, where my parents served as missionaries. My mother began homeschooling me there and continued once we returned to the States. Having her Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics, she provided me a superb education, balanced with plenty of athletic and social activities, so that I grew up well-rounded.

After graduating high school, I attended the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I majored in Aeronautical Engineering and minored in the Arabic Language. Thanks to my mother’s training, I performed well academically, making the Superintendent’s List, Dean’s List and as a senior receiving admission offers for Master’s programs at Cambridge and Stanford Universities. When not focusing on academics, I was active in many extra-curricular activities, including the Japanese-American Club and the Officer Christian Fellowship. I rowed for the varsity lightweight crew team (freshman year I stroked my boat through an undefeated season to win the gold at championships). I also spent a lot of time in the Midshipmen community service organization, heading up several volunteer projects in the local area.  The summers were also full of learning and opportunity, from a cultural immersion program in Oman, to a training cruise in Japan; from driving submerged nuclear submarines to flying in the backseat of a Super Hornet fighter jet.

This past May, I graduated from the Naval Academy in the top 10% of my class. I received the Navy Burke Award which guarantees me the opportunity to pursue graduate education after several years at sea.  My service within the Navy will be aboard ships, and I selected a destroyer home-ported in Yokosuka Japan for my first duty.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain cannot be just a catchphrase; rather it must be a mindset—a life mission statement. It is a commitment to taking the proverbial road less traveled, to deviating from the pack. It is a lifestyle of staying hungry and foolish, consistently challenging the status quo as Steve Jobs did. Living Against the Grain requires a consistent refusal to listen to “that’s how it’s always been done,” or “that’s just the way it is.” Against The Grain is responsible for true innovation, for cultural revolutions, for industrial disruptions.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

As a junior officer in the United States Navy, I am often given instruction and expected to fall smartly in line. Following orders is the backbone of the military hierarchical structure. Obedience to orders from a higher rank or from someone in a leadership position is critical to accomplishing the mission and protecting lives. In fact, the enlisted oath reads in part, “I do solemnly swear… that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me…” In times of great stress or imminent danger, it is critical that orders can be given and followed explicitly.

Yet I see it as dangerous to maintain a mindset of accepting what one is told unquestioningly. Rather as service-members and professionals, we are responsible for thinking for ourselves. There is no place in the military for insubordination, yet my attitude must be one of critical thinking and a healthy curiosity which will hold the system and those around me accountable. As a Division Officer aboard my ship, it is my responsibility to foster an environment in which an enlisted lookout on the bridge feels comfortable reminding me that I have ordered a turn without noticing the tanker to our stern. It is my responsibility to study the nautical charts and respectfully suggest a shorter route to the Navigator. It is my responsibility to turn any dissatisfaction with the system into a constructive proposal for reforms that I submit to my Department Head. To quote a Navy fighter pilot and good friend of mine, “the military needs more disruptive thinkers.” In order to remain the finest fighting force the world has ever known, our military needs those who go Against The Grain and reject the status quo, in order to make a better armed forces, a securer nation, and a safer world. I am committed to becoming one of those professionals.

Catherine Mai
Catherine Mai


18 years-old, 3.62 GPA, Vietnamese; Will attend the University of Southern California to major in Global Health and Studio Art

For the past four years, I’ve entered in the Scholastic Art and Writing Contest and have won five gold and three silver keys for art and writing along with being published on TeenInk. Because of my background in painting, I decided tow rite and illustrate my own children’s book, Dancing between the Wind, which was self-published around December 2012. Using nature imagery from the four seasons and an ice-cream truck, I encourage children to celebrate their differences. At the book’s end, there is an empty picture frame where children can place their own picture so that each book is personalized.

By selling this book and my art at the fashion store MaxMara, at a fundraiser in Vietnam, at farmer’s markets, even at Orange County’s largest shopping mall and at my local anti-mall, a place that does everything a mall doesn’t, I’ve been able to thus far raise $12,000. I’ve donated all of this to support two causes important to me: the fight against child trafficking and to the children’s hospital that saved my life as a newborn. I was born unable to breathe on my own, so I needed extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), to survive. I’ve always had to work hard to concentrate and get A’s instead of B’s, and since curvy letters are frowned upon in Asian culture, at times it has been discouraging. But art was one place where I could create things from my own heart, so it’s been my sanctuary and source of strength.

I remember dreaming about saving the world when I was five, and now, in some way, I feel I have started to make a small difference. I was touching up one of my paintings that had sold at MaxMara’s auction when I realized I could help people by doing what I love. I read in Forbes that 70% of people hate their job and only 5% of people enjoy it, so I feel incredibly lucky to have found one way I can joyfully impact the world.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Going Against The Grain means doing something spectacular and unpredictable with the knowledge of things you love. It means going against what others believe I should do with my life and creating my own path based on my experiences and beliefs.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I go Against The Grain by doing what I love, art, and combining it with something that can help better the world and community. With my major in Global Health, I want to create hospitals around the world, so that more people can have access to healthcare, and intertwine art therapy within those hospitals.

Sarah Sullivan
Sarah Sullivan


18 years-old, 3.8 GPA, Chinese Adoptee; Will attend Maine College of Design to study Graphic Design

I was born in China and came to the United States when I was four months-old.  I live in Mount Olive, New Jersey with my parents, my sister Jenna and our dog, Daisy.  I think of myself as an artist, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Girl Scout, a mentor and sometimes a bit of a rebel.

During my elementary and middle school years, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Gifted & Talented Art program, which fueled my passion for creative pursuits.  In high school, I continued to take Art classes but also became very involved in the competitive Robotics team, where I learned Computer Animation and was the captain, in different years, of both the Animation and the Chairman’s subteams.  As the Chairman’s team captain I was responsible for leading all of our community outreach activities and charitable initiatives.  For the past two years, I have been a mentor for three middle school-level Robotics teams. Many people assume that my interest in Robotics is related to an affection for science and technology, but that is far from true. I love Robotics because it’s such a great way to help kids learn to use their innate creativity for problem solving and innovation.

Other awards and honors I’ve earned include selection to both the National Honor Society and the National Art Honor Society, for which I was Corresponding Secretary in my Senior year.   I earned a varsity letter for Robotics, and my Animation team’s work was the winner of an Excellence in Design Award for 3D Animation in both 2011 and 2012.  I have received several awards for my own artwork, including:

  • Morris County Teen Arts Festival – Best in Show (2013)

  • Blackwell Street Artists High School Art Show – Second Place awards for both Computer Graphics and Acrylic Painting (2013), Second Place for Digital Photography (2014) and Third Place for Computer Graphics (2014)

  • Mount Olive Spring Arts Show – First Place in both Drawing and Printmaking (2011) and First Place in Painting (2013)

  • County College of Morris Photography Club Competition – Honorable Mention (2014)

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

When I first read the question, a whole bunch of cliches just popped into my head, things like: “march to the beat of a different drummer,” “swim against the tide,” “do what’s right instead of what’s popular,” “don’t be a sheep,” and “rub people the wrong way.”

Cliches, yes, but they are all hitting on the essence of what it means to go Against The Grain — which is that sometimes you have to dare to be different from everyone else, or from the “expected” way of doing something.  Whether the issue is large or small, impacts society as a whole or just yourself, it can take guts to be the one who is different because it’s usually a lot easier just to conform.  For example, there will be times in your life when someone will try to talk you out of something you really want to do.  There will be times when people will tell you “it’s okay, everyone else is doing it.”  There will be times when you see someone getting bullied, or people trying to cover up a crime, or an entire community standing by and letting something happen that you believe is wrong.  Going Against The Grain means that when these times come, you will have the courage to stand up for yourself and for what you believe in, no matter what society may want or expect of you.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

It may sound strange but if going Against The Grain is about daring to be different, then I feel like it’s not so much something that I do, but more about something that I am.  I feel as if I’m forever going Against The Grain, like I’m always zig-zagging when everyone else is walking the straight line.  I guess maybe that’s because I’m a creative person, and what is the use for creativity if not to think up, make or do something differently?

I still remember the first piece of art I ever made that I gave a title to.  I think I was in the first grade at the time and while all the other kids were drawing flowers or houses or stick figure self-portraits, I was doing a picture of something I had found on our front steps that morning.  I called my masterpiece “The Bad Cat Ate The Bird’s Head.”

Yep, that was a little unexpected.  And that’s me all over.

Like the period when I decided to wear mismatched socks every day.  That may seem like it ought to have been no big deal, but you’d be surprised at how much societal pressure can be brought to bear on eight-year-olds who don’t conform on the issue of matching foot covering!  When I joined Robotics as a freshman in high school I was one of six girls on a team of 107 students.  I went Against the Grain by becoming a sub team leader in my second year; I led the way at a time when it was expected that I would just follow along.   I became a Girl Scout at the age of six, and stayed in it to this day, despite a prolonged period when peer pressure told me it was highly uncool to do so.  When I got older, I made a decision to stand up against a group of my oldest and closest friends because they were engaging in behaviors that I thought were wrong.  I knew at the time it would make me an outcast for the rest of my Senior year, which was painful, but it was still the right thing to do.   Even my choice to pursue a career in Graphic Design or Animation went against the expectations of others, including my parents, who felt that a smart kid with good grades and SAT scores ought to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or scientist, rather than an artist.

Sometimes the going is tough; it’s easy to doubt my direction when everyone is going the other way. At the end of the day though, the knowledge that my actions are mine alone, and no one else’s, is very satisfying. The times I have changed something for the better is proof enough that going “Against the Grain” is the only way I want to go.

Lizzy Tan
Lizzy Tan


18 years-old, 3.67 GPA, Singaporean; Will attend the University of Texas at Austin to major in Dance and Economics

Lizzy Tan is the only daughter of Drs. Robert and Grace Tan. She was exposed to the arts from a young age: she began piano at age four and dance at age five. She is graduated from Lamar High School in 2014 with Highest Honors and the IB diploma. She has been named a Texas Scholar, an AP Scholar, a National Honor Society member and an Arrowhead Scholar, graduating in the top 3% of her class.  In high school she was a Varsity Cheerleader, captain of a modern dance company, student council member and President of her high school’s Interact Club, a community service organization. Lizzy received the majority of her training from the Houston Metropolitan Dance Center, the Movement Lab and Lamar Dance Theatre, where she served as a company member and choreographer. Her pieces, Absolution and 3×3, were adjudicated and selected for the Houston Choreographers: Generation Next Galas of 2013 and 2014. In April 2013, Lizzy choreographed and co-directed a full-length dance benefit named Dance for Thought: The Alzheimer’s Awareness Project for the Alzheimer’s Association. She considers her dance style a “contemporary fusion” that incorporates her cross-training of ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop. She also manages a YouTube channel.

Lizzy is a recipient of the Rotary Youth Leadership Award from Rotary International. In March 2014, she was awarded scholarship from the Chinese Professional Club and a full ride scholarship, the Forty Acres Scholars, from the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Dance and Economics. Her long-term volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald House and Bayou Manor Retirement Home garnered her the Prudential Spirit of Community Award: President’s Volunteer Service Award. She was also a 2014 contestant in the Miss Chinatown Houston scholarship pageant. Lizzy hopes to one day start her own non-profit that will bring all mediums of art to the elderly, sick and homeless.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

America is fondly referred to as “the melting pot of all nations.” Her beauty is found in her sheer diversity of race, religion, creed and ideas. In any given place, the plethora of culture-crossing, -mixing and -matching is an evident marker of that well-revered nickname. America is one; unified. However, amidst this conglomeration, a sense of individuality has been lost. While daring to dream is permissible, stepping out of the box has become foreign territory to many. Going Against The Grain is not necessarily fighting authority or defying the masses; rather, it is pioneering a path less traveled so that others are given vision, direction and encouragement by which to follow.

We Asian Americans are in an awkward position: we have yet to establish a true Asian American culture niche. Growing up, I found many of my first-generation-American peers felt forced to emulate the stereotypes of their native culture or completely adopt another culture’s mannerisms. What it means to be both Asian and American is a new frontier – rather than conform to the conventions of one or the other, we are compelled to go Against The Grain of these restrictions to represent our cultural identity.

Finally, going Against The Grain is not merely being “different.” It is a lifestyle is defined by constant growth, empathy and even humbling oneself so that one may cultivate excellence in those around them. Going Against The Grain is knowing the adversity that stands ahead, but continuing forward – not only for oneself, but more so for those who do not believe they have what it takes, and by example, will experience liberation to become their truest selves.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”
Name five Asian American pop stars. How about dancers? Singers? Actors? And herein lies my point: the Asian American Artist is severely underrepresented and overlooked. The prompt asks for the essence of going against the grain, and this is mine: it is to represent a group without a voice and to be an advocate for those who feel trapped within the confines of what they should do and how they should act. It is a spotlight for those challenging Asian stereotypes, popular American standards and unpopular demand to bring a face to the forgotten Asian American Artist – I go Against The Grain by being amongst this new breed.

For most of my life, I considered fitting in the ultimate expression of worth. In my childhood, I refuted all things that made me stick out – the things that seemed “too Asian:” I was ashamed of my Chinese middle name, I pretended I couldn’t speak Mandarin and I purposely failed tests in school so that I wouldn’t be dubbed the stereotypical Asian nerd. It was not until high school that I realized I did not have to subscribe to either archetype, and that I did not have to follow any conventional path, precedent or example. I could never fall short if I defined my own standard. Because of this, I could embrace the Asian stereotypes that I was taunted with without fearing them: I was no longer ashamed of my aptitude for learning, my love for school and my grades. I also gained confidence to pursue the less-typical Asian activities that I was passionate about: I was a Varsity cheerleader, I pushed myself in dance, I became fluent in Spanish, I became an aficionado of foreign dramas. I stopped feeling conscious of being the only Asian in the room, or being one of many, because I stopped molding myself to convention altogether.

This attitude is why I do not mold my artistry after what is expected either. In the way that I embrace the variety of my cultural influences, I embrace the variety of my dance inspiration. I am not aiming to become a prima ballerina, nor am I working to become a hip-hop icon. I fuse what I have learned to create a style that is completely unprecedented and therefore, completely me. My dance style is a personal metaphor for my identity as an Asian American – not immersed fully in one aspect or the other, but blended to create something of its own.

 I go Against The Grain by neither forsaking my Asian heritage nor rejecting my American culture. I defy artistic stereotypes of messiness, lack of intellect and disorganization; on the other hand, I defy scholastic stereotypes of close-mindedness, lack of creativity and dispassion. In this way, I am bringing a face to the modern Asian-American Artist: we are smart, passionate, creative, and unexpected. We come from different backgrounds and have different talents, but we are united as ambassadors of an overlooked demographic. I am confident using the gifts I have been given, and I know now that I do not have to fit in with traditional Asian expectations, public demand for dance or American culture. I go Against The Grain with others like me who treasure our uniqueness and desire to honor both where we have come from as well as what has shaped us.

Calvin Tran
Calvin Tran


18 years-old, 4.0 GPA, Vietnamese; Will attend New York University’s Tisch School of Arts in the Maurice Kanbar Institute for Film and Television to major in film with a concentration in film directing and producing

I was brought into the world by my darling (Vietnamese) parents in Iowa, to which I moved to Jenison, MI as my father pursued his career in community work and missionary. I began making films in the fifth grade when my brother showed me how to stop-motion animate with legos and from there, my passions surrounded making lego videos, with YouTube videos reaching over 100,000 views. It was in high school that I began creating films with my friends, actually getting a cast together and making live-action films. I soon realized my talent on film and produced a number of award winners, contest finalists and some just for fun.

However, there is one thing about me that you should know; I love economics. I began studying economics on my own time in my sophomore year, as I was interested in how the world work. I was introduced to Carl Menger, Eugen Bohm-Bawerk and Ludwig Von Mises. I began reading the historical work of Murray Rothbard and Tom Woods. I saw the world through new eyes, like those of Jeffrey Tucker, one of my all-time favorites, and do you know what the world looks like now? It makes me cry tears of joy in the supermarket after realizing how far manknd, for millenia, had been struggling against poverty and starvation and now the battle is won. It makes me amazed and astounded at the simple formation of a pencil (read I, Pencil by Leonard Read for more understanding). It makes me believe the goodness of humanity as we all try making our lives better every day. That’s what economics means to me and it shapes the way I live my life, the words I say, and the films I produce.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

Is not art meant to convey a message? If so, then why have a message if it is not going Against The Grain? Why say something if everyone already agrees? No, we must go Against The Grain in order to change the way the world is or has been.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

I look to new grounds, new worlds of thought, new ideas and new areas to be explored. It’s not surprising that those lands may be filled with groundbreaking subjects and technology that threaten the establishment and promise a better future. That’s why I’ve become deeply involved with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. These aren’t just digital currencies, but are ways to decentralize power and restore trust in whole parts of our busy lives. I look towards the future and all the splendors that it brings. That is why I’m working at a cryptocurrency news site, writing about the effects and changes this technology makes as well as producing media and videos to continue its progress against centralized money manipulation. My writing and my film work have a message, and it is Against The Grain.

Dalena Tran
Dalena Tran


22 years-old, 3.7 GPA, Chinese/Vietnamese; Attending the University of Utah majoring in Film and Media Arts and Entrepreneurship

I’m an Earth child with a movie camera. I study film at the University of Utah focusing on screenwriting, direction and cinematography. My favorite directors are Wong Kar Wai, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michael Haneke, and Harmony Korine. My art and work is a constant journey to sensitize the apathetic and to bring a conscious unity to our lives. This conscious unity is what allows us to understand each other as individuals and as individuals within a larger cultural landscape. I have written two feature-length films that I plan on filming upon graduation. I am currently working on a music video called Dil Se with Huxley Anne, a flower-conscious music producer. My experimental short film, Cooking With a Chameleon, has been screened for an audience at the Tower theater in Salt Lake. My projection art, Seymour, has been featured at the Black Box theater and The Science of Social Media at the Photo Collective in Salt Lake.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To go Against The Grain means to push into new or abandoned paradigms and disrupting the status quo in order to explore the wealth of the unknown. To go Against The Grain means to involve critical underrepresented thoughts and emotions in shaping the standards of a society and an individual’s own identity.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

Asian female perspectives are underrepresented in film.The disparity comes from the expectations society has of us. I’ve struggled to gain support in my artistic endeavors and to even get recognition from others because I was a woman writing and making films. Instead of reenforcing the same stereotypes that ultimately discourage and oppress us, I continue to make movies that present interesting and relevant perspectives that are more than ideological or theoretical, but, personal–human. I’ve made two short films and have written two feature-lengths that deal with realities of being an Asian American woman. More than political, I take an emotional and internal perspective. I have made other short films, like Saving the Collector,which is about my grandfather and his transition into a new environment.

I continue to learn about and practice different mediums. I work with old film cameras to explore how aesthetics and visual representation trigger different interpretations of realties. I challenge how and what storytelling should look like and how we as a society recognize film and filmmaking. I have over ten experimental videos that deal with light, motion and sound in its most basic form.

On top of my passion for film, I have aspired to build my own businesses that help support my local community. Back in 2010, I learned how to code and design to start developing my business ideas. In 2011, I started a magazine with three friends in Europe called 88 till Infinity where I interviewed talented artists. In 2012, I co-founded an app called Vinny. One of my crowning achievements in my life was winning $10,000 for the startup at an investor’s event. To this date, we’ve raised more than $350,000 in capital. This year, I have started a creative agency called Nomoqo. We are working at rebuilding our communities’ web presence as well as offering presentable web spaces for artists to showcase their work. I have followed my interests, even in industries where we are constantly told to stay away from.

Kathy Tran
Kathy Tran


20 year-old, 3.5 GPA, Vietnamese; Currently attending Brookhaven Community College with plans to attend Southern Methodist University to major in Creative Advertising

During my formative years, I did not lead a life that safeguarded me from hardship. I was forced from a very young age to make decisions that affected my safety, my home and how I perceive myself. And just when a stable home was so important, I found myself in an unstable home and struggling to create my own future.

I would not change a single moment of the struggle in my life. It was because of those struggles—those nights hopelessly wondering if I would find a space to sleep—that I’m the person I am today. These experiences have shaped me into a fighter on a relentless pursuit to constantly better myself. They made me resilient to the sting of failure and allowed me to keep moving, no matter the obstacles in my way.

These experiences are the reason I was able to survive this long and will be the reason I continue to do so much more than just survive.

Today, I find myself in a peer group of professionals. My passion for visual art has led me towards the visual storytelling of photojournalism, and I have won several awards for those pursuits locally, statewide and nationally, as well as being featured twice at the Dallas Museum of Art. I also work as a professional in the field, freelancing for the Dallas Observer and Central Track. In these ways, art has been a way to explore myself and cope with my past.

My name is Kathy Tran.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

The grain is what society has taught us—the norms, values and standards put forth generation after generation. Our families have traditions, our communities have expectations, and our country has preconceptions. Our whole lives are built around whether we to adhere to these expectations or defy them. To go Against The Grain means to define who you are, instead of letting your society do it for you.

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

As an Asian woman, my family pushed many expectations upon me. My family’s culture is patriarchal and expects the women to stay at the house and be homemakers or pursue a medical degree. Instead, I left home at 13 and fell in love with the arts the the cultures it revealed to me. I grew into a woman who does not feel intimidated by fields dominated by men and who constantly defies society’s gender norms. Instead of being dainty and reserved, I box and have a forward personality. The grain that my family worked so hard to press into me shaped me into the woman I am today. And because of my defiance and the success I found in it, my family went against their grain and have broadened their perception of others.

Corrine Yap


19 years-old, 3.93 GPA, Filipino/Chinese; Attending Sarah Lawrence College studying Mathematics and Theatre

As a rising junior in college, I am often mistaken for an adult who has their life figured out. Fortunately, I have at least another year during which I can answer the question “What are you doing with your life?” with “I have no idea,” partially because I’m a typical college student who enjoys academic exploration, but mostly because I study two subjects that don’t have many careers in common: mathematics and theatre.

From a young age, I loved to learn. My parents moved from Manila in the Philippines to a small town near St. Louis, Missouri. They raised my brother and me on PBS and Leapfrog workbooks and taught us how to play chess and mancala. We spent 15 years in rural Missouri searching for academic challenge in Catholic schools where my brother and I were the only non-white students for most of our years there. In the middle of my sophomore year of high school, we moved to St. Louis, and I enrolled in a public school with support for the arts, with teachers who care, and with an ethnically diverse student population. A place where I took six AP classes and received six 5’s; where I joined the math team, the scholar quiz team, the National Honors Society, and Tri-M; where I became a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar for 2012. But it was also a place where I became president of the speech and debate team and qualified for the national competition; where I acted, played the piano and clarinet, and music directed over ten productions; and where I was accepted to the Missouri Fine Arts Academy for theater and began to call myself an actor.

When it came to choosing a college, I was determined to find a school that allowed me to study both of my passions – math and theatre – simultaneously. As soon as I received the Sarah and Geoffrey Gund Presidential Scholarship to attend Sarah Lawrence College, I made up my mind and haven’t looked back. My school isn’t perfect, but the personalized education system and the opportunity to connect with professors on a personal level is something I wouldn’t trade for any other school. It gets to the heart of why I do theatre: to make connections with others. Connections with actors on stage, with the characters they play and with the audience. In the past two years, I’ve played roles ranging from 80-year-old nursemaid Anfisa in Three Sisters to Phaedra in Phaedra’s Love, Sarah Kane’s adaptation of the Greek tragedy Hippolytus. I’ve been a stage manager, spotlight operator, props designer and more. I’ve realized that even in such an open and accepting environment, there still exist unacknowledged issues of race and gender. But I’ve found that my opinion is valued and that I can make a difference, both in my school and in the wider world, as long as I continue to believe that I can.

What does it mean to go “Against The Grain?”

To me, going Against The Grain means pursuing one’s passions against all odds while remaining true to oneself. Not being afraid to take risks despite what others might think or what obstacles might be in place. Adam Joyce, former director of the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, always said, “Believe in the world you create.” Meaning, believe in what you do, whatever you do. Whatever challenge faces you, whatever risk you take, give it 100%. Don’t waste time second-guessing yourself because of other people’s opinions on how you should live your life; afer all, it’s your life, so why should you have someone else live it for you?

How do you go “Against The Grain?”

When I was eighteen, a friend asked me what I planned to do with my life. He told me I couldn’t study theater and mathematics forever. He said my dreams of being on Broadway were impractical and that the point of dreams is to be separate from reality. I go Against The Grain by not listening to people like him, by taking such comments as a motivation, a challenge to work even harder for my “impractical” dreams. I know that I’ll have a long journey, and no matter how hard I try, there will be some factors that I can’t control. I’m fighting for a spot in an industry that’s been inherently closed off to people of color, historically dominated by white plays written by white playwrights to be performed by white actors. But how can I find out if I have a chance at success without trying first? I enjoy working hard for the things I love because nothing worthwhile in life is going to be easy. I want to contribute to an environment that is aware of the racial, gender, and social issues surrounding it for not only my sake but for the sake of others like me: artists and performers who have been told to give up on their dreams, by individuals and by the industry as a whole. Going Against The Grain is not impractical; it’s a way of doing what you love.

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