March 2009 | By Jane Leung Larson
2nd Lt. Victor Shen is now stationed south of Baghdad with the 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, an Army Finance Officer in charge of “safeguarding public funds” and disbursing money for everything from soldiers’ pay to contracts in Southern Iraq. Committee members and friends know Victor because he has been a frequent presence at C-100 conferences since he was 17 back in 2000, when his mentor, Matt Fong, former California State Treasurer, invited him to the Los Angeles meeting. Most recently, Victor has appeared in his West Point uniform and has brought fellow cadets to attend the mentoring session and serve as volunteers.
Before he left for Iraq, Victor told the Committee that it would be one of the beneficiaries in his life insurance. How did Victor come to feel so strongly about the Committee of 100 and take this extraordinary initiative?
As a high school student in Cerritos, California, Victor already knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to service, in particular military service, an ambition that Fong cultivated, as a graduate of the Air Force Academy and long-time recruiter of Asian American talent for the Academy. Victor sought Fong out and in Fong’s words, “focused on me like a heat-seeking missile.” Fong told him that if he were really serious about finding role models and learning about leadership, he should volunteer at the C-100 conference. To Fong’s surprise, not only did Victor put in many hours in Los Angeles, but two years later he took the bus to San Francisco and volunteered again. And, he has come to almost every conference since, if his schedule permitted. Not only would he attend the mentoring sessions but help with them as well.
|Matt Fong mentoring at the Los Angeles conference in 2008|
At conferences, Victor has also acted as “aide-de-camp” to Committee Chair John L. Fugh, retired Major General, U.S. Army, and he has become friends with many other Committee members, including U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew and C-100 Governor Henry Tang, each of whom “broadened my horizons on the bigger issues.” “I know those individuals will be there for me, and I’ll be able to give back as well.” Victor finds the conference panels and speeches valuable too: “As a military person, it’s important for me to not lose focus, that there are so many other aspects of international relations and domestic policy issues that affect Americans.”
Speaking of his identity as a Chinese American, Victor said, “The Committee gave me a deeper understanding of who I was but at the same time how this is actually fitting into the world,” said Victor, who now appreciates why his parents made him go to Chinese School every Saturday, something he remembers hating. He notes that there are very few senior-level Asian American military leaders like General Fugh or General Eric Shinseki, who was Victor’s Leadership Chair for his last two years at West Point. And he pointed out that very few C-100 members have a military background.
Why did Victor put the Committee in his insurance policy? “I’ve dedicated my life to serve, whether in the military or not. But if anything were to happen, I think the Committee of 100 is one of the organizations with the purpose and the mission and strength and ability to deliver dialogue that makes me want to make sure that they’ll be around. Hopefully they’ll use it in a mentorship capacity.” Victor says he lives his life by the quote that “the function of leadership is not to produce more followers but more leaders.” “The Committee of 100 is working toward that with its mentorship program. I’ve had personal benefit from this.”
No wonder Fong says that he’s never had a mentee like Victor, the fiercely determined high school kid he said “jumped in my lap” and “stuck to him like Velcro.” “I’m proud to be one of his mentors and that Victor now mentors other students.” He just wishes Victor had followed him into the Air Force Academy, although Victor’s choice of the Army has meant their annual steak dinners in celebration of the winner of the Air Force-Army football game means that Victor has had to host more often than not.