Jason He ’19
Boarding student from Beijing, China
Dining hall food: Noodle bar
Way to spend free time: Playing music (better with friends)
Book: For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Place to be alone on campus: Under the trees by the Sudbury River, near Middle Field
Place to be with friends: The group-study section of the library
Hobbies: Writing fiction
CA tradition: Tech Expo
Thing about CA: The friendly, special, amazing people
Primary Academic Interests
Student leadership, clubs, or affinity groups
Cohead of Enigma, member of the Chemistry Club, Big Data Club, Speculative Fiction Club, Outdoors Club, and ASA (Asian Student Alliance)
Jazz Ensemble (tenor saxophone), filmmaking, theater
Squash, cross-country, Ultimate Frisbee
What class or teacher has made the biggest impact on you?
Nancy Boutilier’s Sophomore English was the mirror that brought me into the wonderland of literature. Having English as my secondary language and being labelled a “math wizard,” I never imagined I would fall in love with writing. The first month with Nancy changed my mind. The readings she assigned were all focused on storytelling. We discussed who got to pass down a story, how to interpret a story, and most importantly how to write a good one ourselves. Nancy’s first assignment asked us to tell our family histories. I seldom wrote fiction in English, but that night I had so much to say. I sketched my ancient hometown at the time when my nation experienced its most profound change. In class, Nancy asked us to share our stories. I worried about mine being too personal — I was not sure if everyone wanted to read about my grandfather getting bullied in a damp alley. It turned out that my classmates and Nancy all liked the story, and they gave insightful ideas on improving it. Listening to others’ works was inspiring. In the following classes, identifying literary elements became like investigating a crime scene: the “suspects” (writers) hide clues in every corner, waiting to be discovered by a mastermind. Nancy’s class taught us to be both detectives and criminals — we wrote short stories while hunting for intriguing details in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. I felt the distance between me and those big names shorten as I could understand why and how they put together illustrious pieces of literature. I wrote several stories, submitted them to magazines, and got into a challenging writing program. Having repeatedly failed to keep a journal in the past, I have a notebook now filled with ideas, characters, and sentence fragments. Friends are always funny, inspiring, and supportive, willing to critique my new work. Their advice helps me be a better writer and a more interesting storyteller.
What has been your most interesting project or assignment?
The most interesting project I have had was “The Application of Game Theory in International Relations,” aka, why we should not worry about a war with North Korea. You may ask, how does math have anything to do with our president and their supreme leader’s decisions? That was my question too. I applied for a departmental study with Mark Engerman to challenge myself more in math. It turned out to be a challenge way beyond numbers and functions. The more I learned about game theory, the more I saw it at work: behind discounts at two rival firms, two dogs fighting for a steak, and many of the decisions we consciously and unconsciously make. As a history geek, I saw the “bargaining game” playing out in wars. A conflict, essentially, was a failure of bargaining between two forces. This generated a series of questions: What makes one powerful when negotiating? Why did only some negotiations work? Would one nation’s reputation in past deals affect its opponent’s decisions? I posed my questions to Mark, who is not only excellent at teaching math but also well-read in history and politics. He encouraged my research and sent me a few news articles about current events that mentioned game theory. This was how I saw game theory in the tensions building up in East Asia. I talked with several history teachers, asking about the causes of certain wars and their opinions on the Korean issue. I read professional math papers as well as essays on historical events. It was not an easy process, but I had never had so much fun doing a math project. Game theory was like a chain connecting the clash between Rome and Carthage with the Cold War, the destruction of the Khwarezmid Empire with the Russian defeat in Crimea. The behaviors of leaders started to make more sense. Nothing could better illustrate the CA motto, love of learning — here, studying is not merely about filling our brains with knowledge, but also about applying it in real life. This kind of interdisciplinary learning is encouraged, because in reality it usually takes combining efforts in several fields to handle one problem. My cross-subject experience would not be possible if the teachers at CA were not crossing fields themselves. I could talk about philosophy and psychology with a math teacher and art with a computer science teacher, and also have them as sports coaches after school. I am grateful that CA provided me such a great opportunity to connect my seemingly distinct interests. Nothing could be more fun than explaining Kim Jong Un with math.
What have you had a chance to do at CA that you might not have done elsewhere?
CA unleashed the beast of music hibernating in me. Although I had been a saxophone player and a singer in elementary school, I stopped playing music three years before coming here. Seeing Jazz Ensemble was in need of saxophone players, I decided to join and give my dusty horn a try. The first year, I had trouble getting the feeling of swing and coming up with solos. My skills were also rusty. But I grew more and more fond of music because of my friends. They showed me beats they made and songs they wrote; they dragged me to music rooms to practice, showing me the new song they learned on piano or guitar. Motivated by their passion, I picked up my sax more often and listened to music that I used to neglect. In two years, my performance improved a lot. I am finally able to express myself through solos. I discover new songs, artists, and even genres every day. After taking Music Theory, I could understand the composition and mechanics of songs. I plan to take a voice lesson and try new instruments. If I had not come to CA, I might still have joined a school orchestra or ensemble, but I don’t think I would like jazz, love rock, or play music for fun. I would not spend hours improvising in the practice rooms or randomly burst into song with friends. Music has become an inseparable part of my life, a haven where I can truly and fully be myself.