A Memoir Of Our Own

By William Y. Yao

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

Phone, wallet, keys, mask.

The short mental checklist I use before leaving Kirkland every morning is a tad longer these days than it used to be. I rush through Harvard Yard to class sipping my tea, and just before entering the building I deftly slip on my surgical mask. We’ve all become proficient in donning and doffing this newest wardrobe piece. Had you shown me my current collection of face masks a few years ago, I would have theorized that my future self decided on medical school.

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Running on Crossroads

I used to run alone. I’d lace up my tattered sneakers, worn well beyond their recommended mileage, and run just outside the painted white lines marking the side of the road. It made sense to me. I could decide to go at a moment’s notice.

I could decide on my own when, where, and how fast to run. Running was an individual sport, after all. A contest against my watch, against myself. One of the first sensations that got me hooked on it was the sense of pride that I felt after pushing myself on a run, over all the fatigue and pain. It was the sense of accomplishment a lot of runners feel after a hard, honest effort. I truly felt my mind, my mental fortitude, played just as important a role as my legs.

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Mentors on Ice, and in Life

Imagine a two-year-old decked out in knee pads, elbow pads, palm pads, a striped ski mask, and an oversized bike helmet. All that on top of the suffocating bulkiness of snow pants and a puffy jacket. Oh, and a pair of really tight, blister-inducing shoes with blades attached to the soles. That was me when my mom taught me how to skate.

I learned to ice skate long before I learned to ride a bike. I can do both now, but the adage “it’s like riding a bike” sometimes subconsciously translates to “it’s like skating” in my mind. Something that I’ll never forget how to do, no matter how long it’s been.

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Old Rules, New Game

This past year’s concoction of “The Queen’s Gambit” and quarantine boredom inspired me, along with millions of others, to dust off old chess sets or play online. It also led me to “Mind Master,” a memoir by former World Chess Champion Vishy Anand.

Through his memoir, Vishy brings us into the dynamic world of competitive chess. He colors the pages with rare stories from a lifetime of triumph and defeat, learning and unlearning, sportsmanship and gamesmanship. His integrity, humility, and wholehearted humanity emanates from his prose. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved in the chess world.

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