In today’s episode, our new host Kenny Vaughn chats with Stephanie Fujii, former Assistant Dean of the Berkeley Haas School of Business and former Executive Director of Admissions. She has spent her career in human capital and leadership development, with more than 12 years of experience in nonprofits and higher education, selecting and developing future leaders.
First, Stephanie shares the impact of COVID, professionally and personally. She talks about the most significant things she learned about herself and how stepping away from her previous life led her to have faith in herself.
She also talks about her time as the Assistant Dean and Executive Director of Admissions for the MBA program, the Haas culture and why it’s essential to embody all four defining principles, and why investing in culture is vital in any organization.
Steph then shares where her passion for people and their stories came from, her dream of becoming an actor, and acting in theatres in her college days.
Finally, she offers some words of wisdom and encouragement to the Haas community.
Lessons learned during the past year – “I’m still learning a lot, but this one, in particular, is the beauty of surrender. I think it’s given us a time and a space to reflect on what’s most important and how we want to show up in the world, and how we want to show up for each other. And for me to do that in a way that feels aligned with mind, body, spirit has meant I’ve had to let go of a lot of things. It was just about that surrender. So, I think I’ve learned that I have the ability to do that, that there’s a beauty in it.”
On walking away from her previous life – “The way that I described it at the time was leap of faith. It was opening up and trusting in the universe. And I think what this past year has taught me is it’s absolutely a leap of faith, but a leap of faith in myself and trusting in myself. And man, that is something that I would love to bring to as many people as possible because I feel like it has changed everything for me. Liberation is coming through so clearly for me.”
“The core of the work that I do now is that I think there is a need for us to see each other and be seen. That was such a kind of a guiding light for that work. And it was possible because of the strong culture at Haas. Culture matters because culture is a reflection of how we see the world, right? It’s how we see the world around us. It’s how we see our place in the world. And it provides these guidelines for how we behave and how we treat each other.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Kenny: How are we doing out there, folks? This is your host, Kenny Vaughn. And I am so excited to welcome you to another episode of OneHaas. Folks, you’re in for a special treat. We have the one, the only Steph Fujii, former Assistant Dean of the Berkeley Haas School of Business, former Director of Admissions, and most importantly, just a great human being.
[00:00:43] When I tell you I’m excited, I’m so excited for today’s conversation. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. So, to be here in this moment with this lady, it is such an honor. Steph, welcome to OneHaas. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you doing?
[00:00:58] Stephanie: Well, right now, I have a big grin on my face because you made me blush. No pressure. But I am I’m so honored and excited to be here with you. I feel every time we have a conversation, it is magical, and I feel energized and hopeful, and boy, have I needed that a lot this year. So, thank you. And just thank you for creating the space and inviting me on here. Yeah, I’m ready for this.
[00:01:25] Kenny: Well, it’s so interesting that you mentioned that because I feel like 2020 has just been a year. It’s been a year, man. And to hear you speak about hope, to hear you speak about the importance of optimism during a time that’s been so challenging for all of us. And I know that the challenges of 2020 impacted us all differently. We just have this culmination of so many things that have happened this year. How has this year treated you?
[00:01:52] Stephanie: Well, yeah, there’s no doubt this has been an incredibly challenging year, I think, and feeling the whole range of emotions, which in itself is a challenge for me because, you know, as you said, I live in the light and the positivity and the joy and there has been a lot of heartbreak, and rage, anxiety, helplessness, depression, those are feelings that I try my hardest not to go near.
[00:02:18] And so I think it’s been a really transformational year for me and that since I have been coaching and working with people, it’s just been this incredible opportunity to walk alongside people who are going through all of this as well. And to be there with them as they’re working through, yeah, how this global pandemic is impacting them.
[00:02:39] The racial injustice and violence, a really contentious and stressful election, you know, and that’s kind of on this macro level. And then on an individual level, just a lot of their worlds being turned upside down, right? The way that they go through life in terms of work, in terms of taking care of their kids and their families, all of this stuff has been a massive amount of change for people to hold.
[00:03:05] And I feel like, through my work, it’s been about creating a space for people to feel all of that. And to work through all of it, which has been so meaningful to me to be able to work with people in this way, I feel like is me walking in my purpose. And they’ve taught me so much, right.
[00:03:22] Because I’ve had to learn how do I deal with my own feelings and my own stuff. And also, be there for them because that’s not something that I had a deep capacity for before. I think it was, let me just push down everything that I’m feeling so I can focus on you and be there for you. So, I think this has been a tremendous time of learning how to be in it all and be fully in it all which I’m so grateful for.
[00:03:47] And it’s also been challenging, but that’s also, it’s been incredible to see how resilient people are and how adaptable that I think it’s created openings for people in their lives to really think differently about how they go about their lives, about what’s most important.
[00:04:04] And so there was a greater openness to change. Whereas I think, a year ago there would have been a lot of resistance to the work that we were doing, but everything else in their life was changing. So, they were open to, yes, let me try something new. And to see the possibility of what people, how people can step into their potential and their capacity in doing that work, has been beautiful and inspirational. Yeah.
[00:04:27] Kenny: So, I feel like that’s been one of the biggest reveals of 2020 is I don’t think anyone could have predicted just the uncertainty that this year would have brought about. And as I personally reflect on this year, I’m trying to look at it from a space of gratitude, because I know for me, there are some mindsets and some paradigms that wouldn’t have been shifted had not this year come about the way that it did. And as I’m thinking about all the challenges that we faced individually and collectively, one of the questions that came to mind is, what’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned about yourself this year?
[00:05:06] Because I think so many of us have learned these very deep, almost spiritual lessons that would not have otherwise come to the surface had we not had to endure, had we not had to show resiliency, had we not had to deal with pain and crisis, and really just endure, you know, the physical, the mental, the spiritual pain, the psychological pain of this year. What do you think has been one of the biggest things that you’ve learned about yourself over the course of 2020?
[00:05:35] Stephanie: That’s a great question. I think and I’m still learning this. I’m still learning a lot, but this one, in particular, is the beauty of surrender. I think that’s what comes up for me. As somebody who has been a lifelong planner and who likes structure and focus and goals and achieving, I think I’ve had to let go of a lot of that. And I started this journey when I quit my job with no plan a couple of years ago. To be fair, there was already a groundwork and a willingness, but I think-
[00:06:04] Kenny: The road is being set.
[00:06:05] Stephanie: Absolutely. But 2020 really accelerated that journey of, yeah, I think it goes back to what I said earlier of, I think it’s given us a time and a space to reflect on what’s most important and how we want to show up in the world and how we want to show up for each other.
[00:06:22] And for me to do that in a way that feels, yeah, that just feels aligned with, I’ll say like mind, body, spirit, has meant I’ve had to let go of a lot of things. Just a lot of the ways that I’ve defined myself in the past, the ways that I have created safety and comfort. And I’ll give you an example.
[00:06:40] One is I find it an incredible amount of comfort in knowing and understanding. So, I will analyze everything. And once I feel like I have a good understanding of why things happen or what’s going on, I can deal with anything, right? Like I will have plan A, B, C, D for how something could unfold and not just didn’t work in 2020 because everything was changing constantly.
[00:06:59] And there was just a lot of the emotional work that I had to do that was, it was just about that surrender. So, I think I’ve learned that I have the ability to do that, that there’s a beauty in it. And there’s power in it.
[00:07:11] Kenny: I appreciate you sharing that, especially I think, as I think about our audience, we are very much planners. I know speaking for myself, you have the five-year plan, you got the ten-year plan, you’ve got the backup to the five-year plan. You’ve got the backup to the backup. And what 2020 just continues to teach us all, I think, is you just got to tear it all up and just step out on faith. And I think that is the resounding lesson that I think I’m going to take with me into 2021 is there’s something truly special about not knowing. And I think it’s so fitting that you chose out of all the words you could have chosen, you said the beauty of surrender and it’s not something that I think people take enough time to celebrate.
[00:08:12] It’s not something that I think people take enough time to really embrace. And what I’m hopeful for is that as we all collectively move forward and move back to some state of new normalcy, that we don’t forget the pearls of wisdom that we are gleaming from this chapter because they are so tremendously important.
[00:08:33] And I think for a lot of us, myself included, there were huge parts that were missing. And it took this cataclysmic moment for us to really take a step back and just surrender. So, I appreciate you sharing them with the home team, you know, I knew you were going to drop us some -, you know, there’s so much content that I want to talk to you about.
[00:08:53] Stephanie: Can I add, I want to add one thing there. And this is why I can talk to you for hours, but there’s something that you said that really resonated with me, which was stepping out on faith, right? Taking this leap of faith. And I think that is such a powerful concept because part of my reflection for this year and what led to this part of my journey was that when I did walk away from my previous life, that the way that I described it at the time was a leap of faith. It was opening up and trusting in the universe. And I think what this past year has taught me is it’s absolutely a leap of faith, but a leap of faith in myself and trusting in myself, and man, that is something that I would love to bring to as many people as possible because I feel like it has changed everything for me.
[00:09:42] And I wouldn’t have said that I didn’t trust in myself before, that I didn’t have faith, but that it was in a very, I think, narrowly defined and constructed way.
[00:09:50] Kenny: The proof is in the pudding because I know our viewers can’t see this as a podcast. I wish we were streaming this, buddy. He had a big little smiling face. You got the glow. So, what I’m telling you is the results speak for itself. And for those folks who may be in a position or they may have to step out on faith, they’re listening to this right now. And they’ve got a big decision. They have, uncertainty is looming around the corner. They’re thinking about a lot of different things. Yeah. What’s your advice or words of wisdom on the other side of that decision?
[00:10:25] Stephanie: Yeah, liberation is coming through so clearly for me, liberation.
[00:10:29] Kenny: Come on now.
[00:10:30] Stephanie: Yeah. And I’ve shared my story with a number of people and they’re like, Oh, that’s so inspirational. It’s so brave. Which it didn’t feel like any of those things at the time, it felt scary and it felt necessary. And I’m not saying that the leap of fate has to be quitting your job or some extreme. I think I always, I was at the extreme end because that’s what I needed to sort of shake this up, and yeah, just shed the layers that were no longer me, if that makes sense. But it is about trusting that voice within you that’s telling you there’s something missing or there’s something more that I want and figuring out who are the people around me that can help me tap more into that voice. And what are the things that I can do for myself to help me connect with that? How can I clear out the noise and create the space for that?
[00:11:16] Kenny: There’s so much that we can unpack there.
[00:11:18] Stephanie: Yes.
[00:11:19] Kenny: As I just think of the tools and the skill sets that you are imparting on people with the work that you’re doing, I know you’re impacting lives in a major way. And I actually think that’s a perfect segue to this next portion I wanted to chat with you about was.
[00:11:35] Many of us within the Haas community know you from your time as the Assistant Dean, the Director of Admissions for the MBA program, you are the one, the only Steph Fujii. You have many pseudonyms, which I won’t bore us all with, but you’ve got many. Wow. I don’t even know where to start. What else?
[00:11:56] So, here’s where else. I’d like to start with a story because I think stories are great. There I was in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was March of 2014 and I just put in my application for the Berkeley Haas School of Business, and I’m sitting on pins and needles, and I received a phone call. I didn’t know who it was from.
[00:12:18] But it was California area code. And I said, I better step up. I got to take this. I was, excuse me, I got some biz I gotta take care of. And on the other end of the phone is the angelic voice of Steph Fujii. Welcomed me to the full-time MBA class of 2016. And the reason I don’t want to start there is I feel like for life’s most significant moments, you are a member like it was yesterday.
[00:12:42] I dunno how many people you called in our incoming class? I’m sure you made it to almost all of them, if not all of them, but what I will tell you is that was a significant moment in my life that I remember for the rest of my life. And it brings me to the next thing that I wanted to just kind of have you share with our listeners, which is the intentionality of culture.
[00:13:05] Because in that moment, I could feel in your voice, I could feel by you taking the time to make that phone call, that I was valued, that I was a member of a team, that you saw me in that I was important.
[00:13:17] I didn’t know what else was behind the curtain. I knew it was gonna be good, but at that moment, you created and you established the Berkeley Haas culture in my mind. And from that moment, I just tried to espouse the values of the seeds that you had planted. So, what I really would love to hear is, in the 10 years that you were at Haas, what were the things that you did to be intentional about culture?
[00:13:43] Because what I’ve learned over time is, I’ve had a chance to be a part of some great organizations. I’ve had a chance to be a part of some great teams. And now being on the other side of the table where it’s now my job to create those spaces, you realize how much work it takes to create a welcoming culture to create a space where people can be their full and authentic selves.
[00:14:06] So, can you pull back the curtain and give us a little bit of Steph Fujii sauce, tell us a little bit of what you’re doing.
[00:14:12] Stephanie: Ooh. All right. No problem. First of all, thank you for sharing that story. I love that story and I’ve loved hearing everyone tell me where they were when they got that call. And I did, I fought, I begged the entire team to let me make every one of those calls because that was those calls or one of the highlights then and to this day of my life, to be able to welcome people into our family.
[00:14:36] I remember getting that call when I was admitted to Haas and where I was and how I felt. So, I feel on even on that personal level, it was incredibly important to make that connection and to create that sense of welcoming into the family. There’s something else that you touched on that, you know, as I’ve been reflecting on this more and more, that when I went into admissions, I was on a different career path altogether, and I had the opportunity to come back and work with the admissions team. And I thought I would do it for a couple of years and be able to share how much I loved my experience at Haas, select who would be part of the Haas community, part of my network.
[00:15:16] Travel around the world and see my friends and classmates and connect. And then I ended up staying over 10 years because it was so much more. And you said it, that the admissions process and that call was, you know, it is a privilege to have people share their stories with us, to bare parts of themselves that maybe they haven’t shared with anyone else.
[00:15:38] And we definitely had that in the admissions process. And so, it was an incredible privilege to be able to read these stories. And that call was the moment where I got to call and say, Kenny, I see you, we see you. And we welcome you into our family. And that to me is like the core of why I did that for so long.
[00:16:00] And the core of the work that I do now that I think there is a need for us to see each other and to be seen. So, that was such kind of a guiding light for that work. And it was possible because of the strong culture at Haas so to now answer your question about culture and being intentional about culture.
[00:16:20] Culture matters because culture is a reflection of how we see the world, right? It’s how we see the world around us. It’s how we see our place in the world. And it provides these guidelines for how we behave and how we treat each other. And having very clear values and the defining principles that Dean Lyons really spearheaded and created and articulated for the Haas community was powerful and made our job in admissions so much easier because it gave us this way to really think through what does it mean to be confident without attitude, to be a student always, to question the status quo, and to be beyond yourself. They weren’t just words. These were authentic reflections of the experiences that our current students had, that they certainly, I was like, yes, this is, this describes my classmates.
[00:17:15] When I was there, we heard from alums who graduated 50 years ago who said that describes my experience at Haas exactly. So, like these were real, they were aspirational, but they were absolutely real and authentic. And it was a powerful way to tell people what we were about. Like before we would say there’s just a special sauce, right?
[00:17:33] There’s something unique about the Haas culture. And we would read applications and we would talk about, yeah, they fit. We would ask our students in our alums who did all of our interviews, to evaluate, fit with cost culture. And it meant something, probably slightly different to each person and something the same.
[00:17:48] But it was hard to articulate. So, the defining principles gave us very clear ways to talk about how people embodied, didn’t embody, or had the potential to embody these four principles so that student always, I remember that first year when we brought the defining principles into the application process. So, we asked essay questions about them. We had our alums and student interviewers evaluate each of the four defining principles. But I remember a lot of the essays from that first year, students always, the examples were, I studied abroad or I learned a new language or it was very literal of I was a student, I learned something.
[00:18:27] And so, after that year, we realized that we really needed to take a step back and think through like, what are the qualities and what are the behaviors that we would expect to see from somebody who is a student always. And it’s not just that outcome of learning, but it’s an approach to the world, right?
[00:18:45] It’s being curious about the world around you. It’s being willing to go outside of your comfort zone and try something different to learn. And so, there are all these ways that for each of the defining principles, we started to articulate what are those qualities and values and how can we ask questions that help us learn more about how somebody does or does not embody these. How can we learn from recommenders who are evaluating these candidates about what they see in terms of these types of behaviors and how can we help guide our interviewers to more clearly think through, fit with us along each of these values?
[00:19:22] And we refined it every year. And it was also incredibly powerful for prospective students who were like, who were drawn to this culture because it was like, these are my values or these are the values that I want to hold as a leader. This is the type of community, team, organization, that I want to create for our current students.
[00:19:41] I remember when I was Assistant Dean during orientation week, one of our first-year student came up to me and he’s like, Stephanie, how does the admissions team do it? Like, how do you bring together people with such different backgrounds and experiences and perspectives, and yet we all have this thing in common.
[00:19:59] And I was like, it’s shared values. There’s such a power in that because it creates a sense of, we are different, we disagree, but we will hold ourselves to a certain way of behaving and treating each other, that makes us more than just a group or a team, but it really makes us this community.
[00:20:18] Kenny: So, one of the things that I want to ask you about, because I think this is just a fascinating topic, and for anyone who’s ever spent time in the Haas courtyard, you understand there’s just energy, right? It’s this positivity. It’s this warmth, this friendliness, it’s this openness.
[00:20:51] And what you realize is that’s unique, you know, it’s something that I think for a lot of us, it’s easy to take for granted because it’s such a seamless part of this transformational experience already. And one of the things that I’d be interested to ask you about is why do you think Haas in particular took such a vested interest in investing in culture? Because there’s a lot of organizations and this isn’t just a hookup to business schools, but there’s a lot of organizations they’ll say, Hey, okay, culture, that’s nice. We’ll get around to it but we need to focus on the bottom line.
[00:21:27] We need to focus on growing revenue and focus on X, Y, Z, one, two, three, and then the cultural kind of fall into place. But what I think I’ve lived from my experience with Haas and the Haas family is that the culture is the foundation, that’s the starting point upon which everything is built.
[00:21:44] So, I just am interested from your perspective, why do you think that approach was taken? What would be your advice to leaders or a position that are having to figure out how to shape culture, how to prioritize? What would just be your words of wisdom as someone who is seeing this implemented very well and why it matters so much.
[00:22:06] Stephanie: That was a lot of questions in one, Kenny.
[00:22:08] Kenny: I know it’s a lot. You know, look, man, I give you a lot to think about now. I get a lot to think about.
[00:22:14] Stephanie: I love it. So, one thing I will say is until you have been in a culture that is a strong, positive culture that is really aligned with your own values, you don’t know what you’re missing. And once you’ve experienced that, it is hard to go back. But not everybody has experienced that at people who’ve experienced toxic cultures and know that that’s not what they want but haven’t necessarily experienced the other end.
[00:22:45] So I think part of it is not knowing what you’re missing, right, and saying culture is important and we’re going to put these values up on our walls and they’re going to be inspirational. We’re going to have all of these amenities so that people have fun at work and we’re going to call that culture.
[00:23:02] And I’m not saying that those aren’t important. They are, but culture is so much deeper than that, right. Because it’s how we make decisions every day. It’s how we treat each other every day. It’s how we prioritize what’s most important, right? Profits, people, not that they’re mutually exclusive, but it’s how we hold ourselves accountable and each other accountable. So, why Haas took that direction, that’s for your podcast with Dean Lyons. Because really, I’m so grateful to have been there during this time where he put a stake in the ground around the culture at Haas and around articulating, not just this laundry list of everything we want to be, but really articulating what makes Haas unique.
[00:23:44] And doing the work of interviewing students, alumni, faculty, staff companies. So, to really be able to say, this is the special sauce, cause we talked about it for so long. I think anybody who’s been at Haas, in any role, can feel that there is something different and there is something special there.
[00:24:05] And Haas is not for everyone and everyone is not for Haas. So, when you can really be specific about, this is what we stand for. You just get this better alignment and -, which allows the culture to flourish. And it allows you to continue to say, like, you know, I would say the defining principles continue to take on a life of their own of what they mean and what it looks like in action.
[00:24:27] Cause there’s what we want it to be in theory and then how we apply that in our day-to-day lives and how we show up. And that’s the hard part. So, I would say that’s the hard part about the culture of first you have to define something that is authentic. And yes, it should be aspirational, but it also needs to be true.
[00:24:47] And for us, we really wanted to pick out what was distinctive about Haas. And it wasn’t any one of those defining principles. It’s all four of them together. There’s just a special magic that comes together when you are embodying all four. And that’s the work, right? That’s the work of when you come as a student at Haas, we don’t expect you to embody all four, but we expect to help you develop in each of those areas.
[00:25:14] And my favorite was when students would come to me and they didn’t get a class that they wanted or yeah, something turned out not the way that they expected. And so, they wanted a different outcome. So, they would come to me and they’re like, Stephanie, I’m questioning the status quo.
[00:25:28] And I’m like, and that’s wonderful. That is wonderful. That’s wonderful, Kenny. I’m like, but the defining principles aren’t a buffet, you don’t get to pick and choose which one you want to use at this point in time. Like the point is how do you embody all of them? Okay. You want a different outcome, but you know, are you approaching it without attitude?
[00:25:49] Are you open to seeing it in a different way? Are you pushing for something that will benefit more than, you know, just you? So, it’s asking all of these questions in the way that we react to disappointment and failure to not getting what we want to making the hard decisions and they become these guideposts to help us and to help us learn.
[00:26:13] Kenny: I’m so glad that you mentioned that because I think one of the beautiful things about how these defining principles have shaped the Haas culture is I will never, and it’s crazy how sometimes it feels like history is just repeating itself with all the stuff that’s going on this year with some of the civil unrest, racial inequality.
[00:26:53] And I remember it was the end of my first year there. And the verdict in the Michael Brown case was released and Ferguson was on fire. And that was an emotionally traumatic day for me, mostly traumatic. It was December 3rd, cause it was my birthday. And what I will remember most about that day is how, as a community, we came together for multiple moments of solidary and it wasn’t just the students, it was the faculty members, it was the Dean, it was across classes and even if people didn’t quite understand exactly what I was feeling in that moment, I knew that they cared, unapologetically.
[00:27:39] I cried with people that day when people went out of their business, literally stopped to make sure we could wrap our hands around each other as a community and be there in a genuine and authentic way. So, as we talk about culture ages, I just really want to bring this thing full circle to emphasize that these are living, breathing things that we are imbuing people with.
[00:28:05] And as I carry forward in life, these are things that are literally defining moments for me that now as I face crises again, I can now draw back on this reserve of positive memories and say, you know what? I might not have the answer here, but I know it was very helpful to me in this moment.
[00:28:25] So maybe there’s something that I can do to emulate or to reflect or now bring that to my organization because I know what it meant to me at that moment.
[00:28:33] Stephanie: A hundred percent. Yes.
[00:28:35] Kenny: So, thank you for being intentional about creating those spaces. Now, I would be remised, we’ve done all this talking and I haven’t got a chance to hear your origin story. What I would love to hear is, as I look at the at the arc of the snapshot I’ve seen that is Steph Fujii, there are some very real themes and one of the themes is just a love of people.
[00:29:03] You’ve got this energy, you’ve got this aura. You’re a very uplifting person. You’re a very positive and motivational person. You’re the type of person that breathes life into those around you.
[00:29:16] Stephanie: Kenny, you’re gonna make me cry.
[00:29:18] Kenny: Man, I’m just telling the truth. Now we just say, we just got to call how we see it out here in these high streets. So, the million-dollar question I have for you, how was that seed planted? Was that something that’s always been a part of you? Was it something that you saw in your parents and you just want to care for? What was it that planted that seed and then what was it that drew you to your life’s work?
[00:29:41] Stephanie: Wow.
[00:29:43] Kenny: You know, we gonna be talking, we’re at OneHaas now, come on now.
[00:29:46] Stephanie: Where it’s going to be a whole other podcast, where was that seed planted? Yeah. I think the love of people and being of service absolutely is from a family from culture and just what I witnessed around me. So, I think that that sort of at the core has been important.
[00:30:04] I’ve always been fascinated by people in their stories. In college, I majored in cultural anthropology because I accidentally took a class in my first year and it made me realize like, wow, how I see the world is socially constructed. And there are so many different ways of seeing the world and it was just endlessly fascinating.
[00:30:23] And I think that led me into the different careers I had. I would say coming into admissions, I’ve always thought it was this accidental thing of, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was a Haas student ambassador when I was a student at Haas. So, I have this colleague, right.
[00:30:41] Kenny: Come all the way through HSA for life. I’m sorry. I had to give that plug room quick.
[00:30:45] Stephanie: But yes, anytime, all the time. But I came in and I was like, I’m going to be a Haas student ambassador. That is my goal. I’d always been in like recruiting role, taking on recruiting responsibilities in all of my jobs, because I just, I loved that getting out and meeting people, sharing the experience, figuring out who’s a good fit.
[00:31:04] But like I said earlier, I thought I would come back to it for a couple of years and then go back to my non-profit work. And you know, as I’ve been reflecting more and more, I think the seed was planted. And I didn’t realize this, but I’m going to take you back to, I was in junior high or high school and my dream is-
[00:31:21] Kenny: Can you remind us where you’re from?
[00:31:24] Stephanie: Berkeley, California.
[00:31:26] Kenny: Okay. Berkeley, born and raised. I see you.
[00:31:28] Stephanie: That’s right. Local. Yeah, my dream was to be an actor. That was it. I was convinced, like, this is my calling. And so, I was enrolled in this acting school in Berkeley and they were having a special weekend workshop where they were going to bring up a casting agent from LA and they had a couple of other like child TV actors who were coming to share their experiences. And so, we each got to do a monologue and then get a one-on-one session with this casting agent. So, I was convinced like, this is my moment. This is when I will be discovered. Now, mind you. I was not a very talented actor and I knew that, but I just felt like they are going to see something in me that’s going to make them say yes, we need to bring her to Hollywood with us. So, you know, I go through, I do my monologue. I sit down, I go into the room to sit down and have my one-on-one session with this casting agent. And I am just like, I’m ready for this moment. And she starts off and she said, Stephanie, I loved your energy.
[00:32:30] That was a really good performance, but I have to be honest with you. There just aren’t roles in Hollywood for people who look like you. And after two minutes, my meeting with her was over. And my, like my dreams were crushed and it was devastating, Kenny. It was like it was the first moment in my life where I was like, wow, I can’t pursue my dream because of the way that I look. And then I got fired up. And I was like, well, no, that’s crap.
[00:32:55] Like I’m going to become a director. And I’m gonna cast people like me. And I’m like, no, I’m going to become a producer. And I’m going to create opportunities for people who look like me.
[00:33:03] Kenny: Blew back to change the game.
[00:33:04] Stephanie: Yeah, change the game. Exactly. Fast forward a couple of years, and I was cast in a Christmas Carol act, which is an American conservatory theater in San Francisco.
[00:33:15] So professional theater company. I was cast in the role of Martha Cratchit, so the oldest Cratchit sibling, and we had a multiracial family. It was beautiful and it was this moment of like, I recognize this theater, this is not Hollywood, but you know, wow. Like this is a place that has welcomed me.
[00:33:34] And we became this family for the whole run of a Christmas Carol. Like it was an incredible experience. So, when it came time to apply to college, I remember for Brown, they had, I think they had one essay and it might’ve been like, tell us about yourself or just something. And you had to handwrite it because that’s how old I am back in the day. They wanted a handwritten essay of tell us about yourself. And I wrote about that experience.
[00:33:58] I wrote about that experience of being told that I couldn’t pursue my dream because there weren’t roles for people that look like me and then discovering theater. And it was like, I just poured my heart out into this essay. And it was the only school where I wrote about this experience. And I didn’t think I was going to go to Brown, but I did.
[00:34:17] I ended up going to Brown. And my first year there, I tried out and was cast in this play called Angry Asians and Love written by a junior Filipino student. That’s right. And that was also a year of just really connecting with discovering my Japanese-American, my Asian American identity.
[00:34:35] That’s all, that’s definitely a whole other podcast. So, this was just like, all of this coming together. And I will never forget after one of the performances. Okay. Feeling some emotion here. This gentleman comes up to me and he introduces himself. He says I’m John Brown. I am a member of the admissions team. And I presented your application to the admissions committee. That was like, Oh my God. That was like the highlight of my life right there. Because at that moment he was saying to me, I see you. And in coming to see me in this play, he was saying, I believe in you and I support you.
[00:35:13] Kenny: Hmm.
[00:35:15] Stephanie: And here was this wound that I had been carrying and man, the impact that he had just on my being from that experience. And I like, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t connect the dots till recently. And I’ve tried to track this man down to tell him what an impact he has had. Yeah, that’s when the seed was planted, Kenny, and I didn’t even realize it, but like this was a way to bring this to people, to see people.
[00:36:36] Kenny: What’s so crazy about that story is I’m actually so grateful for the critic, for the naysayer. And it’s funny how hindsight gives you this perspective in life where we have these horrendously painful moments I cannot begin to imagine what that does to a person’s self-esteem, what does to your self-worth, what does to your confidence? I can’t even begin to imagine but that moment let us to this moment, and for that, I’m tremendously grateful. And then to see it all come back around with the performance in the moment of validation. Oh. We might have to put a feature-length film together on this one. I don’t know. You might have to dust off that. We may have to do something with this one, Steph.
[00:36:58] Stephanie: Kenny, this is everything, right? This is what’s showing up for each other can do. And it’s not that hard.
[00:37:05] Kenny: It’s really not that hard.
[00:37:07] Stephanie: But he showed up for me at that moment. And it was life-affirming.
[00:37:10] Kenny: I’ll tell you what, on behalf of the thousands of people within this community that you have shown up for in a full, genuine and authentic way, to include myself, we say, thank you. And before I let you go, take a moment for any words of wisdom, any words of encouragement, any final thoughts, that you want to share with the community? You can take this any which way you want to, the safe space.
[00:37:38] Stephanie: I would say how honored I am to be a part of this community how meaningful it is for me and how proud I am of each and every student and alum who has embraced these defining principles. And brought them into their lives in the world, because I think that we have an opening right now. I think we have an opening to reimagine and reshape the world and how we can, in the end, been opening to create opportunities for people who have not had opportunities. And I think that a lot of our defining principles of beyond yourself, questioning the status quo, competence without attitude, student always, this is all about reshaping this better world.
[00:38:26] And to me, values, and those values, in particular, it’s really about what you stand up for and what are you willing to rise up for?
[00:38:33] And these are very clear to me and I see that in all of the students who I met and worked with and that gives me a lot of hope when I think about the road ahead and how much work there is to do, but that there are people willing to stand up for, lifting each other up. That I think there’s been a lot of tearing each other down and now it’s how do we lift each other up. And that to me is the Haas community of how do we lift each other up? And how do we get back to a place where we see the shared humanity in each other.
[00:39:04] And I think we have an opening to do that right now. And knowing that there are people like you, Kenny, and all of your classmates who are out there in the world, bringing this light, like this is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me going.
[00:39:17] Kenny: Well, I’ll tell you what Steph Fujii. I feel like some seeds have been planted. My spirit has been filled by this conversation. So, as I think about all the lives that will be impacted by your wisdom, your words, this has just been fun. I feel like we should do this on an annual basis or something.
[00:39:35] This is, this has just been great. So, on behalf of the entire OneHaas community, I would just like to thank you so much for joining us today. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, if this story resonated with you, if you feel a little bit more connected, we’d love for you to like, subscribe, follow us on whatever streaming platform that you may be listening to today.
[00:40:03] And we thank you for your time, investing in your Haas community, invested in the stories. And we hope that a few of the things that we may have spoken about today add just a little bit of value to your lives out there. So, until next time folks, we’ll see you again. Bye-bye now. And go bears.