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Alumni Story: Jay Li, Class of 2016-2017

August 27, 2020

I am Jay Li, and it’s been my great pleasure to represent the alumni community as an Alumni Rep from Greater China of the Class of 2017. A Beijing native, I was living in New York City prior to becoming a Schwarzman Scholar and was working for the National Basketball Association league headquarters focusing on International business development. The intersection of promoting sports culture and then somehow contributing to US/China relations has always been my career interest. In 2016, our program provided me with the best opportunity to return and re-engage with my home country after 8 years abroad.

It was an unbelievable year spent in Tsinghua, being able to define what it means as well as what it takes to be a Schwarzman Scholar. The results are rewarding, as mutual understanding and lasting friendships were firmly built within the hyper-diverse community, beating most people’s expectations. In the meantime, the experience also opened doors to many meaningful connections that have truly made instrumental impact on my career.

Despite the high profile nature of our program, it’s not a pure professional one that presets specific career paths for its students. Instead, I see the Schwarzman Scholars Program as a highly customizable platform, and it’s totally up to the individual how to best leverage it.

I remember clearly it was during our third module at the college, Yao Ming, a basketball legend and national hero, was elected to be the Chairman of Chinese Basketball Association. This move was seen as a heavyweight sign of reform within the Chinese sports industry. After reading the news, a specific career aspiration came to mind: I want to be in a unique position to work closely with him utilizing my NBA know-how in the process of modernizing Chinese professional sports. I was instantly determined to pursue it, but the only question was: how do I connect with someone who I don’t know.

Luckily through a few connections including my mentor from the college, I had the chance to make the pitch in person in his CBA office. In addition, I was given a mission by the college to invite him as our commencement speaker. Two results came out of that meeting: first, a Special Assistant role was created; secondly, the 1st cohort would see Yao at our graduation. What a fruitful day!

For the past 3 years, I had the incredible honor to work alongside him and we were able to push for some real changes in our industry; I played the role bridging the West (NBA) and the East (CBA) through basketball. Calling it a dream job would be an understatement. More importantly, beyond our professional relationship, we have become great friends.

Now, I’ve just embarked on a brand-new journey by starting my own business, a start-up specializing in the creation of an original animation series. While it might seem to be quite a deviation from my previous career trajectory, it actually strives for the same purpose, just through a different angle.

Writing this piece to reflect on my  life since Schwarzman College is a great personal exercise for my own growth as well. I’ve benefited so much and contributed too little to the alumni community. Now we are officially over 500 people around the globe even though I still feel the hangover from tequila shots at my own graduation ball. The world has suddenly become a much tougher place in 2020. Indeed, friends sometimes can turn into foes, but let’s always keep this in mind: we, as Schwarzman Scholars Alumni, it’s our responsibility that friends stay friends. The world will count on us.