Every other Friday night, Roland Yang ’14 hosts what he calls “a post-dinner, not a pre-game.” He gathers his close friends, serving them wine and freshly-baked cake in a room decorated with flags: Nigerian, French, Chinese, Indian, Kuwaiti, and rainbow.
Yang has a knack for bringing people together.
He’s currently Chief Operating Officer of Harvard Student Agencies, which employs over 450 students. As a freshman, Yang enlisted three Holworthy entryways to hang Christmas lights that spelled out “Ho Ho Ho.” Elected a Class Marshal this fall, he helps organize activities for more than 1600 seniors. And when asked what he does for fun, Yang lists event-planning in the same breath as baking and traveling.
Oh, and he was named one of Phi Beta Kappa’s “Junior 24” for exceptional academic achievement.
The road to social and academic stardom began with a little boy obsessed with trains, living on the outskirts of Paris.
Growing up in France, China, and the U.S.—and these days Kuwait, since his father moved there for work—has led Yang to identify with people across boundaries and cultures.
“I’m a French and American citizen of a Chinese ethnicity and then some Middle Eastern flavor sprinkled on top,” he says. (When speaking, Yang has a habit of pulling together the strands of his life, just like he thrives in pulling together people.)
Coming to Harvard, Yang sought out global opportunities, in part because of an interest in international diplomacy. Freshman year he worked for Let’s Go (a travel guide company operated by HSA) with the hopes of getting hired to travel and write in the summer. Soon Yang was jetting off to France and Turkey. He’s kept up the trend: last summer, Yang worked for Harvard Business School’s European Research Center in Paris.
Yang is still considering an international diplomacy career but is focusing on the business world first. “It’s the same playing field, which is working internationally and working to create relations among people,” he says. “And then you can scale up to among states.” Next year, he’s thinking about taking a consulting job in Dubai.
But Yang hasn’t only worked to cultivate international connections—he has built community at Harvard, too. Last year he was co-chair of Queer Students and Allies, an organization that he says introduced him to “people who could relate and who could support and be allies.” He adds, “For me that was a very important part of widening the world.”
“Widening the world” might well be Yang’s life philosophy: It incorporates his global view and interpersonal focus, his appreciation for difference but love of community.
In the middle of our interview, Yang takes a call from his roommate to discuss their plans to help sophomores fill out Kirkland House’s elaborate Secret Santa forms. (Yang is not on the House Committee but just likes to lend a hand, he says.) Afterwards, listening to Yang enthuse about the way Secret Santa intimately acquaints Kirklanders, or the loyalty that the IM Crew team inspires, it’s hard to think of a group Yang doesn’t embrace.
On that rare occasion when Yang isn’t surrounded by people, he’s probably rowing.
“I love just taking a single out on the river and being there—just you, a small boat that’s barely wider than you, and the water,” he says. “And a goose or two.”
Even a quintessential people magnet needs his solitude. “If you take yourself and put yourself in the Charles River,” he says, “no one can get to you.”