Rebecca Hong: In Motion

Rebecca Hong

Long-distance running was a valued place of reflection and quiet for Rebecca Hong. But hard pavement and gradual wear and tear made it less feasible when she moved to New York City, leaving her wondering what the next step should be.

So when her sister Rachel recommended cycling, a gear in her turned. “It was totally thrilling,” Rebecca says. “I’d just left the Bay Area—which has some of the best cycling in the world—and decided to start riding in a place where cars get mad and the streets are narrow. But it was still so much fun, like being a kid again! The coolest thing was, accepting my limitations gave me the chance to discover a whole new way to move forward.”

Movement, curiosity, and exploration are recurring themes throughout Hong’s life. She relocated from Vermont to Stanford University for undergraduate studies and lived as a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina. As a professional, she taught at the University of Michigan, the Bush School in Seattle, and Lick Wilmerding High School in San Francisco before serving as Director of Institutional Equity at Spence School in New York. And while Hong may consider such travels nomadic, she set down deep roots in each place, working with and learning from her shared communities over many years.

“I thrive around educators and students who believe in the pursuit of knowledge together,” she says. “I love exploring an educational space where teaching and learning are not based on rules and regulations alone, but on purpose and relevance. I believe those learning this way challenge the status quo and think big about what’s possible.”

That kind of experiential learning informs Hong’s willingness to explore new concepts and shake up her context from time to time. One of the most formative events in her life came mid-career, when she and Rachel—whose own journey went from corporate law to farming and back to public service—researched and trained over six years toward the shared dream of opening a Jewish deli on the West Coast. The takeaways from that adventure still find ways to resonate.

“We had an amazing time learning a whole new industry,” says Rebecca. “Even though it felt like a real zigzag as I was going through it, I now understand how useful that experience was. I understand collaboration differently. Teamwork is fundamental to running a restaurant, and understanding teamwork is a crucial part of how I work with people in schools now. Those things have deeply informed everything I do since.”

In returning to California and embracing her new role as head of school, Hong sees Sequoyah as a major player in reorienting the conversation around progressive education, and education in general. For her, the distinctive education offered by the school since 1958 is becoming an even greater “cultural match” for what the world needs: good people serving as community stewards who can address today’s complex issues.

“We offer a program for students that helps them practice knowing their own motivations and invites them to seek relevance in what they are learning,” says Hong. “By the time they begin their own journey beyond Sequoyah, they know how to work with other people, are not afraid to face questions they don’t immediately have answers to—and are excited by the prospect!—and can leverage their skills while knowing themselves deeply as individuals.

“I got all the way to my 30s before understanding I didn’t know what I wanted, or why. I had to restart assessing all the things Sequoyah kids start considering from a very young age. That’s why this is such a special place; it helps students to tap into their own curiosity, keep them focused on moving forward, support them in gaining real perspective, and do good work.”

For Rebecca, seeing Sequoyah students embrace the mission and ethos of the school is worth the move. “They are allowed to take risks,” she says. “They’re allowed to not do the right thing at every turn, and use ‘failure’ moments as opportunities. They’re excited to learn. They want to learn. They want to learn from each other. And they are therefore kind to each other. It’s a pretty great place for all those reasons.

“There’s a reason progressive education works, because kids are asked to think about the why. What are they doing, and why? What are they learning, and why? What do they want to be doing, and why?”

With the fall semester underway, Hong continues to make herself available to students so she can talk with them and hear what they have to say about how Sequoyah works best. She also hopes to travel with various Field Studies trips this year to familiarize herself with one of the school’s most iconic programs.

Hong is still acclimating to her new home in Southern California, finding the best hiking and biking routes she can, sampling local cuisine, and finding time to see friends and family. The sheer amount of things to see and do around Los Angeles inspires her to remember that, no matter how much she loves what she does, there are other worlds beyond school.

“Let your curiosity take you where it makes sense,” she concludes. “If you really listen—and learn to listen to yourself—you’ll find yourself in places that feel purposeful and fun. Let those kinds of ways of decision-making be part of your process, and you’ll find yourself in the right community, doing the right work.”