I probably know Jeff longer than anybody here in Great Neck. Both of our fathers were professors at Fudan University in Shanghai, where Jeff’s father also served as vice president of the school. We enrolled in the same computer science class in Fudan. After the turmoil of 1989, we both left China and studied in the U.S. I went to Brunswick, ME, and later Providence, RI, and Jeff went to Cooper Union here in New York City.
We lost touch for many years, even though we both worked in New York City since college. As fate would have it, in 2008 when my wife and I moved to Great Neck with our older boy, we almost bought a house on Melbourne Road in Russell Garden, just a few houses down from where Jeff and his family settled in a few years later. We reconnected at our kids’ Chinese school.
Over the past few years, our families have traveled together to the Galapagos Islands, hiked in the Andes and Machu Picchu, suffered monstrous mosquito bites in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle and camped in West Virginia and the Appalachian mountains.
Throughout these journeys, I truly appreciated Jeff as a friend, a father and a husband who is deeply devoted to his family and is a resourceful person always eager to help others. His calm demeanor belies his passion and curiosity, and was an assuring presence to those around him during some trying times. When his daughter fell and broke her arm on the last day of our trip to the Galapagos Islands, he did not panic or feel stressed. He reassured everyone to make sure that we didn’t feel guilty for not being able to help. When our boys were throwing tantrums for wanting to play on their iPads in the jungles, he used his witty humor to calm them down and played with them for a long time. Our busy schedules do not afford us the luxury of spending a lot of time together, but whenever we travel or go skiing together, his resourcefulness and concern for others makes us all feel comfortable, assured and appreciated. You know that he always has your back and that your kids are safe with him.
During our times together, we shared our concerns and hopes, and exchanged views for our children’s education and upbringing. When an unexpected event called for action, it was not surprising to us that Jeff would step up and embrace the challenge to run for the office of Board of Education trustee.
As a friend, I understand his struggling with the decision, knowing full well that his professional duty will make serving the office a daunting task, and I am proud of his stepping up and willingness to take the responsibility nonetheless. While I know very well that he is fully capable, I am still amazed by his calm demeanor and his fairness in this trying time. In just a few short weeks, I see him growing into a strong candidate, even more passionate about the cause to support our great public schools and our children’s future. In the midst of all of the negative sentiments, many of which are ill-directed and unfortunate, he stands tall above all the frays and becomes the uniting force for all of us in Great Neck. He advocates for our public schools and calls for unity and respect for all candidates and supporters and detractors alike.
While people may focus on the issues that divide us, Jeff understands that underneath of all of these negative sentiments, we share the desire to provide our children with the best education they deserve. And this is the uniting force that will bring us back together, regardless of the outcome of this election. Public schools will be the pillar of our great education system, and private religious or secular schools will provide additional support for all our children.
Great Neck’s appeal will depend on our supporting this common goal and shared value. My two boys went to Temple Beth-El for their entire preschool. We learned Hebrew songs, enjoyed Sukkot gatherings, Passover meals and discussed our faith and cultures over dinners. We learned that although we came from very different backgrounds from all over the world, we are more alike than different; we all highly value our family and community; and we all believe education is the highest priority for our children.
While I am sad that we are going through a period of great difficulty, I am glad that it provides us with a great opportunity to rally together to voice our beliefs and share our values. I believe that people, such as Jeff, who are open-minded and who desire to bring everyone together, regardless whether they agree with you on all issues, will help us heal and together we can all ensure that Great Neck will be great for the many years to come!
On May 16, I hope that all of us go to the polls and vote for our children’s future by voting Yes to the Bond Referendum and vote for Jeff Shi for Board of Education trustee. Together, we can make a difference.