My first memory of Emily Hsiao is from 11 years ago, when she and a bunch of her little 7-year-old girlfriends were sitting in a tree yelling “Kiss! Kiss!” at my daughter and Emily’s little brother, who, since they were both 3 years old at the time, would oblige, much to the giggles of the 7-year-old girls sitting in the tree.

As she grew older, I often asked Emily to babysit so my girls could develop a relationship with an older sister who could later lead the way for them and talk to them about teenage girl stuff should the need ever arise.

wangemilyhsiao220jpg.jpg I wanted to surround my children with positive role models, both famous (poor Tiger) and local, so I was always looking for cool Asian American and multiracial teenagers and young adults who could lead and inspire my children (and occasionally babysit too). However, I never thought that some of these kids might become role models for me, too.

I previewed my future as Emily’s mom tried to figure out the hallways at Huron High School, SAT exams, AP courses, academic games competitions, driving lessons, orchestra stuff, prom. When I organized a town hall meeting for The White House Presidential Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ first official visit to Michigan, I asked Emily to speak on behalf of Michigan’s Asian American youth, and she ended up moving us all with her insights. I also enjoyed dragging her to all sorts of cool lectures at the University of Michigan and introducing her to people like international theater director Ong Keng Sen and University Musical Society president Ken Fischer. She met Guarneri String Quartet’s Arnold Steinhardt on her own.

Last fall, we spent every Sunday afternoon together downtown at Sweetwaters Café drinking tea and writing essays together (while my daughter Hao Hao was across town studying Japanese with Emily’s mom). Helping her with her college application essays, I learned a lot about a setback she overcame, an issue of local concern, how she will contribute to diversity and what she wants to be when she grows up—big questions to resolve in 250 words. As we tried to figure out how best to tell her story and to imagine where her incredible talent for language (trilingual!), leadership skills (orchestra president!), and adventurous spirit (summer internship on a farm in Japan picking watermelons?) will lead her some day, I shared my own experiences with language learning, academics and working in international development. It was such a privilege to see the world through her eyes and to help her think through her dreams, which were remarkably similar to the dreams I once had.

This year, she is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business’s prestigious Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. When she was home at Thanksgiving, I kept dropping by her house for lunch and more stories about her Chinese history and Japanese literature classes, her new friends from around the world, an upcoming field trip to Shanghai, and eating huo guo (Mongolian hotpot) in people’s dorm rooms. I could not help but wish that I could be there too.

Watching her grow into the incredible young woman I always knew she would be reminds me of when I was her age and everything was possible ... and sort of makes me want to think about somehow going back to school, to go and just learn stuff. I do not know how, but if she can do it …

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for AnnArbor.com, and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at franceskaihwawang.com, her blog at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com, and she can be reached at fkwang888@gmail.com.