Elaine Chao's life story is one of achievement. She is the first Asian American woman to be appointed to a United States president's cabinet and the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since the Roosevelt administration. She completed her formal education at two prestigious American universities and made her career at well-known institutions like Citibank and the Peace Corps. This impressive list of achievements begs the question, what is the secret to Elaine Chao's success?
Attendees from all corners of National Taiwan University crowded into the Odeum, a small on-campus auditorium last Tuesday (October 27) to find out. To the audience's surprise, Elaine Chao's life story resembled an impeccably packaged gift. Behind every one of her accomplishments was a long list of inspirational anecdotes about dedication, struggle, and sacrifice. For instance, while her father’s top score on the national maritime standardized test secured for the family a chance to begin a new life in the U.S., there was a price to be paid—he missed the birth of some of his children and worked three jobs to support his family in New York.
When starting over in a new country, the Chao family was not afraid to explore and embrace the American values of optimism and communication, while retaining the traditional Chinese values of constantly seeking improvement and self-sacrifice. In her speech, Chao graciously and repeatedly thanked her parents for the opportunities they gave her and her sisters. Moreover, her father instilled in his children an independent spirit and love for new experiences. Chao made clear that she was able to achieve success in life because of the sacrifices made by her family members.
The most poignant lesson language learners at ICLP and around the world could glean from Chao's speech was that the true secret to her success is, indeed, her verbal communication skills. Elaine Chao speaks simply and clearly. She made her family's immigration story special with vivid imagery. She used easily digestible generalizations about the global economy and adjusting to different cultures to make her views memorable.